The past 20 years have seen an explosion in laboratory construction as academic, pharmaceutical, biotech, and high-tech companies have increased the level of research and development in their respective fields. The design of these laboratories has evolved dramatically as architects and engineers have responded to the growing requirements of the research community. Here are five trends in laboratory planning and design that will impact every research facility.
Increased support equipment
The increase in laboratory support equipment has created a demand for increased space in labs. More analytical equipment—mass spectrometers, highperformance liquid chromatographs, X-ray refractometers— has become readily available and even commonplace in research. Bench space is at a premium as these pieces of equipment occupy a greater percentage of the lab area. Most labs were never planned for this quantity of equipment and, unfortunately, many newly constructed labs aren’t either.
The King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center is an 894-bed multi-facility, multi-entity tertiary care hospital and one of the leading healthcare institutions in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Image Credit: Cannon Design
The growth of analytical instrumentation has added to the data storage and computational needs of labs as well. Personal computers and the network servers required to connect them create additional space demands at the benchtop and require dedicated server rooms. Building data cabling is constantly under pressure to provide the fastest and broadest network systems with high-speed connections all the way to the benchtop.
Advances in robotics will increase lab productivity and efficiency but will place further strain on available workspace. Already, robotic samplers and pipetting equipment are in fairly common use; new applications of robotic technology will cause lab planners to be yet more adept at spatial organization.
Support cores such as an imaging core, an omics core, or a characterization core are one design strategy that can begin to alleviate the space crunch. A support core is a centralized space containing equipment that may be shared by two or more research groups. Typical equipment in support cores are electron microscopes, mass spectrometers, or genetic sampling analyzers. Within a single lab, these types of instruments are not typically utilized at their full capacity— but when shared by multiple groups, they operate at a higher level of use. The support core also reduces space problems within individual labs and increases the utilization of these expensive instruments.
Cores also can be established with a dedicated technician who provides technical and operational expertise of the instruments. This expertise is critical since instruments are constantly evolving both in software analytical tools and detection hardware. To increase the utilization of the instruments, the technician can provide instrument analysis as an in-house service and as a for-fee service to out-of-house users. Technicians also provide training on and maintenance of the instruments.
Laboratories are not static. Over time, the research being conducted will change as will the research necessity. In most cases, gutting a lab and starting from scratch is not financially feasible. Flexibility in the original planning and design is a key strategy for accommodating change and growth.
At the most basic level, dimensional modularity allows labs to be reconfigured in the most costeffective manner.
Flexibility also extends to mechanical systems. With the initial cost, lab mechanical systems can comprise up to 50 percent of the total construction cost, and later modifications to the mechanical system can be extremely expensive and disruptive. Flexibility in mechanical systems can be achieved by providing shafts, vertical space, and mechanical rooms that can be expanded in the future. The designer must right-size the building aspects that cannot be changed— floor-to-floor height, the structural grid, floor loads—in such a way that mechanical systems can be adapted to new requirements.