The Future of Lab Design

The Future of Lab Design

Michele R. Brooks, LEED AP | Director of Life Sciences at OL+
Christopher T. Doktor, AIA LEED AP | Principal at OL+

Designing for laboratories comes with a unique set of needs and considerations. ‘Collaboration’ is still a driving force in lab design, as the younger scientists come out of an educational model which makes use of teams to problem solve and find solutions.

Working with clients in the biotech, pharmaceutical, therapeutic, manufacturing, and cleantech fields, OLSON LEWIS + Architects assesses and responds to the unique needs of each challenge. Over the last 30 years, changes in the industry have addressed flexibility, sustainability, and collaboration. The evolution of lab design is also being influenced by the rapid changes in technology.



IMMUNOGEN | Video Conferencing in the Collaboration Cafe

The paths to discovery have been revolutionized by technology, including smaller more powerful instruments, computer analysis, and robotics. Laboratories of the future will be required to provide the Research & Development (R&D) professional with the right environment and services for innovation and creativity.
Technologies link scientists in new ways. Collaboration in the physical environment has become more important. A combination of the R&D business model and the increased pace of getting products to market, companies find value in housing scientists near one another, as well as close to other disciplines such as manufacturing, marketing, and sales.



H3 BIOMEDICINE | Cafe/Meeting Space outside the Labs

Kitchen, cafes and break spaces that are centrally located and furnished to encourage interaction, become gathering spaces for all, sparking interdisciplinary collaboration.







THERMO FISHER SCIENTIFIC | Huddle Space nestled in a Lab Corridor

Companies differ in culture as well as business processes, all of which drive design decisions. Some firms require their labs to have limited noise and distraction. Although the design of life science facilities to attract scientists will continue, there is a desire to set aside more plug and play space for collaboration within the labs themselves. Digital technology is being incorporated into the labs of the future in the form of video and virtual conferencing, as the incoming generation is more inclined to share information than its predecessors.




Lab Area

The current trend is for more collaboration inside the lab itself. Tools to visually communicate ideas are used to encourage and promote group discussion. Many life science companies have a global presence with partners at other sites, and the use of video monitors within the lab provides scientists at all location with a real time connection. The sharing of ideas can be as simple as write-and-wipe wall surfaces. With technology, the notes can be digitized to create an electronic record of the brainstorming sessions.



FOUNDATION MEDICINE | Lab/Clean Room – Flexible Lab Case Work

The pendulum has swung from the large “ballroom” labs to smaller-scaled “neighborhood” labs, promoting more collegiality.

Planning open module labs with flexible benches has been a focus in lab design for the past few years, but now designers are encouraging lab users not to overpopulate their labs with casework to allow more floor space for larger equipment.

Planning for flexibility in the built environment goes beyond the flexible services infrastructure. Flexibility is driven by adapting the building to the evolving needs of the users.

Fast moving scientific discoveries, as well as company mergers and acquisitions, have prompted the move towards more flexible lab design. These are labs, which can be easily adapted with in-house facilities staff, to accommodate changes in personnel or science research.


NSIV | Travis McCready (Mass Life Sciences), Steve Pike (Mass Clean Energy) and Tom Kinneman (NSIV) tour a Shared Lab

Shared labs, more common with the growth of incubator facilities, give start-ups and small companies access to expensive equipment that they could not otherwise afford to own themselves. Our recently completed project for North Shore InnoVentures (NSIV) includes two shared labs, a makerspace, collaboration, common areas, flexibility, technology, as well as private and open offices.





ORGANON | Lab/Clean Room

Natural daylight is often preferable in a laboratory. Locating labs with access to exterior windows is a good first step. Not all labs require natural daylight, so depending on the research conducted, some may be located in the interior of a building, making the artificial lighting choices important ones for the designer.

A combination of forces, from designers making lab spaces more comfortable, to the need for energy efficiency, has begged the question “do researchers still need the claimed 100 footcandles (fc) of light on the bench? ” With the use of LED, we have seen a ratcheting down of the (fc) recommendation for general overall light to 65, which appears to be adequate in many lab environments. Direct/Indirect pendent light fixtures are still preferred, offering a balance between energy efficiency and visual acuity.

Our recently completed project, (NSIV) included several labs, one of which is a beta site for a new LED lighting from Sylvania. The quality of light is superior to their other labs and gives the impression of natural daylight.


ANIKA THERAPEUTICS, Italy | Tarkett Sustainable Linoleum Flooring

With a growing emphasis on sustainability and resiliency, clients are more sensitive to the use of sustainable materials. The trend is away from PVC in building design since its manufacturing has detrimental ecological consequences.

For flooring options, we often see vinyl (PVC free) as the go-to flooring material. Vinyl tiles also provide flexibility and cost-effectiveness, in that if there is a spill, replacing individual tiles is an economical solution.

Designers are now recommending a tiled version of Marmoleum, a linoleum flooring made from recycled sawdust manufactured in a less environmentally offensive manner, as a preferable, cost-effective, sustainable solution.

Low- (or no-) VOC coatings are used throughout labs, especially in paints. Whenever possible, designers don’t specify epoxy coatings on the walls. There is also a trend away from the use of epoxy floors, except in special conditions.



For a more efficient, flexible laboratory with greater worker satisfaction; we look forward to guiding you through the process of planning your lab of the future.  
Our laboratory design review experts have a few open spots left this month for a consultation.  
Don’t let this valuable opportunity pass you by.

Contact Michele or Chris 


Michele Brooks
direct: 978-704-6252

Chris Doktor
direct: 978-704-6255