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Laboratory Design spoke with Matthew Malone, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, Associate Principal, Science and Technology practice leader for the New York office of Perkins+Will.

Laboratory Design (LD): What made you decide to pursue your particular career?
Matt Malone (MM):
At first, I was completely naïve about architecture. I had enjoyed art and took classes when I was young, and chose my school because it had a great art program. I went into architecture because people kept telling me that architects are the only artists that don’t starve for their art. After taking one intro class, I was hooked. School tends to focus more on theory, but for me, architecture is about a built environment. Very early in my career, I was given an opportunity to step away from drafting standard details and bathrooms—to be on a specialized small projects team. I was assigned a lab renovation project, and responsible for seeing it through from design to occupancy. I worked closely with the lab scientist to understand the equipment and the challenge of the available space. When the project was complete, I realized that I assisted in facilitating a potential breakthrough that could change lives. This felt like the greatest application of what I love most about architecture—the ability to affect people by improving their environment and, as a result, enabling the development of something that will literally improve the lives of millions.

LD: What’s your favorite piece of architecture, lab-related or not?
MM:
It’s too difficult to single out a piece of architecture. I love seeing a place/space that has been reinvented or a place/space that took years to create. One of my greatest thrills from when I studied in Italy was seeing Michelangelo’s Campidoglio in Rome and the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata in Florence, down the street from where I lived. Especially with the latter, to understand that simple, beautiful plaza was designed and built by multiple generations of architects over the course of more than 200 years, and experiencing it as a single cohesive environment, with a depth and richness that is usually too difficult for one architect to achieve, is astounding. It’s a shared vision that endured beyond those who originated it, and it’s a level of collaboration that I strive for in my work.

LD: What’s a common misconception about your line of work?
MM:
People who don’t understand architecture tend to think that it’s more engineering than art. People who hear that I specialize in science and technology architecture think I am more of a laboratorian than an artist in my endeavors. My job involves experimentation and exploration, but designing science environments does not make me a biologist or chemist. That said, creativity is instrumental in every pursuit, it just takes different forms. There is great creativity in scientists’ endeavors too. Living in the vicinity of Murray Hill, N.J., I have become almost obsessed with the historic Bell Labs. The things that were imagined and realized at a place like that cannot be done without creative thinking and imagination.

LD: What would you tell young people if you wanted to encourage them to join your line of work?
MM:
Ask questions and go beyond the answers. Take it upon yourself to learn as much about the matter as you can. Put in the extra effort to not just find, but understand the answers. This vocation needs people who ask lots of questions. I think if there is a genuine curiosity about how things work, the people you work with as clients (the researchers)—who are themselves naturally curious—have an inclination to teach or explain things to you. I think this is especially true if they feel your greater knowledge will ultimately benefit them through the design. Asking questions is the best way to learn. I don’t think anyone assumes an architect intern will have a professional knowledge of laboratory processes or the differences between bio-safety levels, but if there is an interest in what they’re doing, an interest in helping them meet their goals, or even just interest in facilitating their research, they are anxious to help you see that through.

LD: What do you like to do in your spare time?
MM:
Not that any of us seems to have much of it, I like to spend my spare time with my family—my wife and two kids. I am a bit of a pop culture nut and I like to watch movies, or read thriller, mystery or sci-fi novels that tend to be very detailed. I mostly get sucked into 80s and sci-fi movies. Esoteric knowledge suites me—that may be why I revel in architecture and science. I also love exploring micro-cultures—differences in different cities. Knowing where to get a good hot dog or burger seems to be of value to me, and I tend not to question why. Most people tell me my taste for junk food is matched only by my capacity for retaining junk information.

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