2017 Lab Design Conference Impressions

Matt Ellsworth, Martin Lu, and I participated in, and thoroughly enjoyed, 2017 Lab Design Conference. This year, Wilson Architects led a workshop on the Value of Laboratory Mockups. If you’re interested in that topic, contact me, and I’ll send you a copy of our presentation.

The Lab Design Conference is a great way to learn about complex and progressive labs from all over the US and across the world. Major themes at the conference included: collaboration, safety, sustainability, and automation.

Scientific collaboration was the most dominant topic at the conference, mentioned in at least half of the presentations. Josh Meyer (Jacobs) gave the conference keynote speech, “The Next Generation of Collaborative Lab Space,” highlighting best practices and case studies from Jacobs’ work. Bernard Dooley and Roger Goldstein of Goody Clancy and Don Kranbuehl and Pat O’Keefe of Clark Nexsen presented similar perspectives and case studies. Projects with strong collaborative elements won several 2017 Lab of the Year Awards. The 2017 Awards even included, for the first time, a “Special Recognition for Collaborative Learning Environments,” recognizing how more collaborative laboratory education better prepares students for research careers.

Advances in health and safety were prominent in several sessions. Adrian Walters (ARC) and Michael Labosky (MIT EHS) gave a great presentation about challenges and opportunities of working with EHS groups. I especially liked a slide of Michael’s that featured his son’s crayon illustration of “stop, drop, and roll,” about which Michael said, “it’s not usually your hair that’s on fire, but it’s an important safety message anyway.” David Withee (Withee Works), Javier Arguedas (Waldner), Mark Doore (Airgas) and Sascha Kunkel (asecos) gave a workshop about advances in chemical storage and waste handling technologies. Tom Smith (ECT) gave a presentation on SEFA’s new guidelines for selecting appropriate containment devices (Fumehoods, BSCs, etc.). This Guide to Selection and Management of Exposure Control Devices in Laboratories is an excellent and much-needed resource.

A “sustainability lab panel” titled How Do Labs Become Green and Stay Green? started off day 2 of the conference. The panel featured a practical (but general) discussion of lab sustainability, including inspiring advice from Otto Van Geet (NREL) about innovative approaches to selecting a designer and contractor for lab projects. Other great sessions included Noah Rollins’s (Gensler) presentation on adaptive reuse and Alejandra Menchaca and Vera Baranova’s presentation on Payette’s glazing tool. At future conferences, we would love to see presentations on other aspects of lab sustainability, particularly anything that manufacturers are doing to comply with materials transparency related to LEED v4 or the Living Building Challenge.

The advancing pace of automation was evident in several sessions. Noah Rollins (Gensler)’s presentation featured renovating a former core facility for a densely packed, instrument-heavy lab. James Schreyer (Hixson)’s presentation explored how designing labs around the needs of specific instruments should be different than designing for people using wet benches. Adam Denmark and Edward Burton (SmithGroupJJR) gave a particularly interesting presentation titled The Laboratory in 2050, imagining how different our labs might be if we designed them for robots rather than for people. I am intrigued by this idea. Fully robotic labs raise interesting questions: What does robotics mean for building shape and size? For chemical storage and chemical safety? How does building automation interface with lab automation? I would love to see a design competition addressing this challenge. My intuition is that a fully robotic lab would look nothing like today’s labs.

We enjoyed the food and hospitality of Raleigh, North Carolina, learning about the exciting work going on in the research triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill). We also experienced major flash flooding for the second year in a row at a Lab Design Conference. The flooding reminded us of the increasing urgency of resilience and disaster preparedness in building design. Our thoughts are with those who suffered.

With Lab Design Conference behind us, we’re looking forward to the I2SL Conference in October, in Boston!

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