Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration – creating open and flexible laboratory work spaces of the future
Current trends in action
I was excited to have the opportunity recently to tour a newly completed Laboratory in central London. Located close to the celebrated Francis Crick Institute the facility is situated near some of the finest hospitals and medical schools in Europe. The laboratories, developed as a joint venture between The Doctors Laboratory, University College London Hospitals and the Royal Free Hospital, are contained within a fully refurbished mid-20th Century building. This former office block comprises 11 stories above ground and five basements and was extensively rebuilt and enlarged to create the laboratories, conference, meeting and corporate office spaces.
Entering the laboratories, I quickly gained a sense of how technology was being employed to automate the continuous ‘production-like’ process. The work flow is an interconnected continuous process ‘highway’ using ‘intelligent cars’ to transport individual samples throughout the facility to various testing, analysis and quality check locations. When sensing low power, cars pause in charging stations, before continuing to their pre-programmed destination. Automation removes known problems with manually handling high throughputs within complex work flows, requiring consistently high levels of quality. High standards are being achieved through an automated sample transport system that maximises throughput efficiency, maintains consistently high levels of quality and repeatability whilst keeping costs low.
An important factor in today’s workplace is creating compelling work spaces to attract the best talent. I saw this in abundance at the these laboratories where carefully cultivated high-rise outdoor spaces had been created so that employees can congregate, socialise and work, for example. Just around the corner at the Francis Crick Institute an interesting organisational innovation has taken place whereby researchers do not belong to departments confined to set locations. Instead scientists and researchers co-locate with the equipment and items they use, with interest groups collaborating on common research themes rather than by the traditional hierarchical approach.
Emerging trends – the “third revolution”
This is a time of profound change for the life science and health care sectors. The mass-produced drugs, that revolutionised the industry in the 1980s and 1990s are now in full decline with pharmaceutical companies struggling to replicate their previous successes, despite research and development expenditure being double, compared with a decade ago. Advances in genome tracking is facilitating the creation of targeted medicines, meaning drug companies will produce a wider range of drugs aimed at smaller patient groups.
A new model of laboratory design is emerging, more flexible, open and responsive environments in which scientists can collaborate, quickly adapt to emerging technologies and readily share resources. Modern science has become an increasingly social activity with the need to work in interdisciplinary research teams, an environment where life, physical and engineering sciences all conspire to produce new scientific advances. This convergence, the so-called “Third Revolution” requires increased collaboration to handle the complexity of the interactions. Research teams need a range of configurations: open lab, closed lab, flex lab, traditional lab and collaborative lab. Each space is specifically configured to promote interaction for team-based research, provide flexibility to accommodate work flow changes and rapidly advancing technology. Hyper-flexible spaces that can be reconfigured as needs change is becoming important.
Working in silico and the lab concierge
It is predicted that researches will spend less time in the lab and more time analysing the huge quantities of data being generated. So, working in silico, within the computer environment through analysis and computation rather than in chemical or biological media will become more prevalent. Modelling research and use of collaborative tools such as video and virtual conferencing as research and development becomes increasingly global in nature.
The role of Facilities Management partners is similarly predicted to increase. As the physical location of the laboratory and its equipment becomes more fluid a team that keeps track of utilisation, operation and maintenance of instruments and equipment will play a vital role. Third-party vendors that can interface and manage such services will become key, allowing scientists and researchers to focus on their core work of discovery and innovation.
Beyond BREEAM and LEED – Truly Sustainable Laboratories
As in the case of this Laboratory, an important factor in creating new lab space in today’s real estate environment, is that facilities are constructed by re-configuring existing building shells rather than on new greenfield sites. This trend is likely to continue because the approach is frequently perceived as a cost-effective option to reconfigure and/or repurpose often redundant or aging facilities offering a faster route to ‘business-as-usual’ operations.
A contemporary laboratory is known to consume five times as much energy and water, per square meter, as a typical office environment. Laboratories are energy demanding because they have, for example, intensive ventilation requirements and numerous heat-generating devices in operation. Scientists need 24-hour access and with important complex and costly experiments requiring fail safe back-up systems, all combine to elevate the energy foot print.
In the future, laboratory investment will have to demonstrate an equivalent return by reducing energy consumption or the environmental impact on the site. So, it is not surprising that aspirations to move beyond the indicators set by current building sustainability standards such as BREEAM in the UK and LEED in the US are being considered by designers. A sustainable laboratory (by definition) must operate with a zero-net energy use. But is this achievable? It is envisaged that incorporating appropriate energy reduction strategies, high performance design, integrated safety philosophies and modifying the behaviors of the users, a design team can create a facility that moves beyond BREEAM and LEED.
Watch this lab space
These are exciting times for Science & Technology in the UK, with Life Science sector growth being driven by the increasing burden of chronic diseases and an ageing population. With this growth brings increased demand for research facilities to support the development of organisations, big and small, responding to this societal need. Specifically, this means an increase in demand for laboratory facilities as well as teaching, corporate and general office space, to name but a few of the growing sector’s infrastructure needs.
The lab of the future will look and operate very differently from the lab of today. With the need to create social workspaces that foster collaboration and employee’s health and wellbeing, the appropriate balance between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ space, the need for greater flexibility to accommodate technological change, the drive to reduce environmental footprint and changes in the way governments, industry and academia collaborate are all crucial factors driving the way laboratories will evolve and operate in the future.
The aims of any laboratory design are to sponsor innovation, support science and keep scientists safe whilst delivering optimal value for research investments. Regardless of how your business is achieving these goals you will be facing some, if not all, the challenges discussed in this article. Whether the needs are to increase your laboratory R&D productivity, achieve higher speed-to-market, optimise or increasing laboratory space, improving the safety and sustainability and work flow of your R&D space, through existing facility modifications, or building new, I would welcome the opportunity to support you on your journey – Explore our capabilities Here »
 Lab of the Future, CBRE, 2016. *Definitions created by Gregory Weddle, Vice President Specialty & Regulated Solutions, CBRE.
About Andrew Kelleher
Andrew Kelleher leads Structure Tone’s Science & Technology business in the UK. He has extensive delivery experience in both the pharmaceutical, life sciences and nuclear industries.
Andrew is an accomplished client-facing Programme and Senior Project Manager with internationally recognised credentials and 20 years’ experience of delivering complex, mission critical construction, infrastructure and science / technology led ventures in a range of regulated industry sectors including life sciences, nuclear and automotive.
Working within clients’ complex operational environments, Andrew has developed a successful track record in project and programme execution. Frequently working as an integrated member of the client’s team, he has consistently delivered to client expectations, continually ‘raising the bar’ through the application of high professional standards and values.
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