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Laboratory Design spoke with Graeme Spencer, Associate Director of Education, Science & Technology Sector Australia with HDR in Sydney, Australia.

Laboratory Design (LD): What is a typical day like for you?
Graeme Spencer (GS):
Throughout my career I’ve been fortunate enough to work on a diverse number of large-scale, complex projects around the world. So at this point, my “typical” day usually involves managing multiple project issues, liaising with my team, clients and consultants to address these issues or develop new opportunities that may arise. My day is made exceptionally better by the talented people I get to work with and meet on a daily basis.

LD: What are you most often asked to speak about at conferences and trade shows?
GS:
HDR’s Data-Driven Design approach is relatively new to the Australian market and interest is huge, particularly in the tertiary education sector. I am often asked to speak to property management teams who are keen to understand how HDR’s data mining and predictive analytics work can help them develop current and future utilisation of existing building stock, identify departmental collaboration opportunities, and plan with far greater clarity for the next 20 years of growth. The use of today’s data to inform tomorrow’s decisions is a very powerful proposition for our forward-thinking clients.

LD: What’s a common mistake made by those working on designing/constructing a laboratory?
GS:
Too often the design and delivery process of laboratory spaces is segregated from the overall building program, and may, as a result, lack the same level of vigour given to the overall buildings in which the labs reside. It is true that laboratories require specialist knowledge to plan and develop; however, it is easy to lose sight of the project’s overarching design principles resulting in disparate and disconnected spaces.

The best laboratory spaces around the world are the product of their treatment with the same level of care and attention to detailing as, say, arrival and collaboration spaces. Despite the technical challenges, we make sure staff and laboratory spaces are not tucked away into the depths of buildings, but are rather seen as integral to the design and planning principles that make the research centers (of which they are a key component) a success. This is achieved through different means including accessibility and connectivity to staff and activities, visual connection to the surrounding landscaped environment throughout, or celebration of the explored fields of study for current and future scientists.

LD: What do you consider the highlights of your career?
GS:
This is a tough question as I’ve been involved in some fabulous projects throughout my career and each has had its own unique highlights. For example, working on The International Convention Centre Sydney provided me with the incredible opportunity and privilege of being a part of reimagining such a significant part of the city. The scale and complexity of this project, and the sheer speed at which it was delivered, was truly awesome.

Another highlight for me was working on University of Sydney’s Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease. It was one of the most complex and exciting research programs I have been involved in—ranging from discovery to animal research through to clinical and behavioral research. This facility had 15 years of laboratory project delivery condensed into one building. The energy, fortitude and optimism of the research team and staff to treat this global epidemic made for an inspirational project.

Most recently at HDR, I am excited to be delivering vertical laboratory campuses within Sydney and Melbourne inner-city sites. The challenge of delivering an integrated and active campus experience, with multi-format teaching spaces for emerging pedagogical needs, is creating fabulous new and diverse education and research buildings. I am excited to see these projects completed in 2018.

LD: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned in your career?
GS:
The rapid take-up of technology in the architecture field—virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D printing and computational design—as part of our design process has changed how practices like HDR can better deliver projects. Whether modeling, presenting, analyzing or realizing, the adoption of this technology has allowed for far greater clarity of communication with our clients, users and contractors in articulating and resolving highly complex projects.

LD: What do you like to do in your spare time?
GS:
I’m often training on my surfski on Sydney Harbour, which I think is one of the most spectacular harbour settings in the world. For those who don’t know, surfskis are narrow lightweight ocean kayaks. So I am lucky to paddle around Sydney Harbour but, as picturesque as it is, there is the odd shark about so you do your best to stay on the boat and not spend too much time in the water!

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