July 19, 2024

Architectural Concepts Guide

Elevating Home Design Standards

Research-Based Workspace Design Shifts In Academic And Corporate Labs

3 min read
Edwin Hargrave
Edwin Hargrave

For over 25 years, a large portion of associate principal Edwin Hargrave’s design projects have been comprised of science-focused research facilities for academic institutions. For the last 5 years, however, he has been planning and programming for some of the world’s largest biopharmaceutical corporations. We were curious about how different, or similar, these two different markets are when it comes to planning and programming for the world’s top researchers. Hargraves responses are as follows:

How has the physical arrangement of research labs evolved?

Edwin Hargrave: In the past, early academic science buildings featured lifeless double-loaded corridors flanked by cloistered research labs tailor-made for a single principal investigator’s (PI) focus–fiefdoms as they were often described. These have been replaced by the shared open lab arrangement which commercial life sciences facilities have long understood to be more productive as it provides long-term flexibility.

In the academic setting, the shared openness translates to supporting a wider range of PI investigations in a single environment, a larger array of equipment, and supports more complex workflows, often serving multiple research programs. The sum of these factors is that students are better prepared to enter the workforce confidently and productively upon graduation.

They’ve been introduced to the concept of working in teams, they have a facility with a wider range of equipment and workflows, and they have the basis to understand that most commercial research activities they’ll be involved in are cogs in a bigger research wheel.

How has the approach to collaboration and interaction evolved?

EH: Earlier academic science facilities suffered from a lack of interaction and collaboration spaces, often with offices and meeting areas a far distance from the active laboratories, if not in a separate building altogether. Grad student write-up areas were built into the labs, which has a host of safety implications as well as making them less accessible to students seeking mentoring. These physical conditions overall could lead to a siloed learning environment, compromising the exchange of ideas that could have led to increased learning, confidence building, and strengthening the institution’s program and recruiting capabilities.

Commercial research activities demand constant interaction and collaboration between research staff to meet schedules and objectives, requiring labs and workplace areas to essentially function as a single research community. In response to this need, lab workers’ workstations are usually located immediately adjacent to the lab spaces, outside of the classified lab space, but connected with glass walls providing views into the lab spaces. Informal collaboration and meeting areas are interspersed among the workstations, with food and beverage stations nearby. Exchanges occur frequently and with less formality, hastening the pace of the research.

This same arrangement has been adopted in the academic research setting. Departmental Centers, PI Offices, and grad student write-up areas are located adjacent to the research labs, again with informal in this case intensifying the learning experience and once again better preparing students for the workplace.

Is designing for academic researchers and commercial organizations the same?

EH: Today, the fundamental space models that promote discovery and learning are very similar. The key planning components are flexible open laboratory environments, team-based problem-solving approaches, and strategically located office, collaboration, and interaction spaces. Utilizing planning and design solutions that apply this understanding is accelerating breakthroughs in medicines and therapies through better-prepared entry-level workers and more efficient research facilities.

Edwin Hargrave, an award-winning architect, is an associate principal at TRIA, a full-service architectural and design firm that specializes in science and technology workspaces, including corporate interiors. He has designed over 1 million square feet of research space. As the son of a marine chemist, you could say he was born into the culture of scientific research. From an early age, Edwin witnessed his dad’s laborious field work, long hours in the lab, and the passion for discovery and implementation of successful outcomes to improve lives in the community.


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