In pursuit of the modern research work environment

As the 2019 S-Lab conference approaches John Swift reflects on the pursuit of the modern research work environment

The MIT Press recently published a book, Laboratory Lifestyles. The book details the continuing trend of creating ‘class A’ workspaces for research laboratory environments – often in leafy campuses or in expensive urban neighbourhoods.

Large corporations have made significant investments in concepts like the “lab of the future” and “the modern research work environment”.  As such, world-renowned architects approach laboratory design projects much like they view museums – as an opportunity to make creative statements about the importance of culture, or indeed science, within our society.

Another similarity between science and culture is that architectural statements are there to attract funding – typically funding from venture capital and philanthropy.

Brown University’s Engineering Research Center combines open spaces with enclosed and semi-enclosed spaces in which to conduct research. Image: Buro Happold

The open plan design of these new laboratories designed to be a catalyst for collaboration, which is seen as an important social element in encouraging interdisciplinary discoveries. These high end and collaborative workplace locations, whether in US clusters or within Innovation Districts, are driven by access to talent.

What’s more – there is a high need for flexible real estate solutions to encourage a range of companies at different stages of corporate development. These clusters are located to take advantage of their proximity to nearby institutions – particularly focusing on potential healthcare and higher education partners.

Inside the Draper’s recent addition and infrastructure upgrade. Part of a non-profit research and development organisation in the USA. Image: Andrew Bordwin

Delivering the promise of this new breed of high-end urban scientific clusters means ultra-adaptable, high performing infrastructure solutions. More like investments made in Silicon Valley than traditional science buildings, the engineering design solutions are equally as progressive.

Sustainability and Resiliency go hand in hand with Adaptability and Reliability. Microdgrids, CHP, battery storage and other infrastructure solutions are being implemented as part of a holistic infrastructure strategy.

Digital masterplans are informing how these clusters can have the capability to be connected through the implementation of smart building solutions. The adaptability to support heavy wet lab or electronics lab programs or to support workspace programs with the simple yet flexible infrastructure is a critical planning and implementation strategy.

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