New Approaches to Laboratory Design
by Diane M. Fiske
The dark, smelly laboratories where scientists worked in isolation behind closed doors will soon be relegated to horror movies as science centers build increasingly elaborate facilities to compete for top researchers and grant money.
An important design factor realized in 21st century labs is their open, inviting feel with work stations lit by natural light beaming through large windows. Another component is the absence of permanent walls, recognizing that scientific work is done in teams.
Finally gone, happily, are the astringent odors of antiseptic chemicals, thanks to powerful new air recycling systems.
Penn Sets an Example
One architect implementing such changes is Steven Izenour, a principal in the internationally known Philadelphia firm of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates (VSBA). Izenour is also an adjunct member of the architecture faculty at the University of Pennsylvania.
VSBA has designed many buildings on the Penn campus and several in the health center including the Chemical Research Building in 1990 and the Vagelos Laboratories in 1997. Izenour said the new style of lab design was predicted for universities about 15 years ago. Today the Philadelphia area is home to many good examples of building for scientists.
Izenour says: "It is important to be flexible in the science world. Grants come and go and the whole staff of a floor can change. With new people coming in with different requests and needs, the work stations must change and expand or contract."
Collaboration is another mandate, Izenour notes. Designs for lab buildings tend to be more open now so modern scientists can compare notes and work in teams. An important innovation is placing heavy lab equipment in a building's interior zone, leaving windows for the labs and offices where people work.
The facade of the new BRB2, designed by Perkins & Will, described as the "right mixture of vertical and horizontal."
Photo: Glen Conley, Francis Cauffman Foley Hoffmann Architects, Ltd.
Modern labs feature daylight, views, quality materials, and areas for collaboration.
Photo: Don Pearse
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