“Stop acting so small, you are the universe in ecstatic motion” – Rumi
“To start with the end in mind, is the beginning “- Anon
Laboratories are the place where creation is born, a microcosm of natural laws and behaviours of elements and their components. They are ubiquitous and found in different forms. Sometimes they are a place to test, monitor and measure, in some of them we tweak genetic structures, in some we alter compositions and properties to discover new ones, in some we invent new processes and create metamorphoses! Sometimes, they are our shields for wellbeing and protection, trying to keep ahead of aggressive bacteria and viruses to defeat them, or incubators for our youngsters learning and experiencing science in schools and universities! They bring checks and balances to human life in pathology labs and hospitals and help billions live longer.
The task of architects and designers is never easy. They need to consider the latest trends in laboratory design, use innovative materials, design for optimum utilisation of space, make the labs flexible, achieve a good balance between costs and functional needs. Let us examine some of the key drivers in designing a great laboratory.
In order to be contemporary and manage resources efficiently, the laboratories of today have to incorporate Flexibility in the laboratory as a key design feature. It is simply the most important tool available to reduce frequent renovation and consequently down time in the ever changing increasingly demanding workplace. The problem arises in that the more flexibility you try to build in by using the latest material, technology and products, the costs escalate. However, in the long run it pays for itself in huge saving in renovation costs and down time.
Sustainability is an increasingly important aspect and metric of lab design. Energy efficient technologies focus on many significant components. Renewable energy like Solar for lighting is a very attractive option. Water conservation and systems to harness used water are increasingly being considered. Rubber flooring is being increasingly the preferred option, due to the advantages of reduced maintenance, absorbs noise and vibrations, while increasing comfort for your feet.
Safety, security, noise levels, air flows and changes, the list is endless. Obviously, authorities do implement and audit regulatory compliance continuously. Creating a safe and secure laboratory is a primary responsibility and sustainability is now a key element in architecture and design.
The end user is the most important stake holder who also thinks of the future. Is this laboratory good enough to take them to the future? Technology is changing and improving so fast, that instruments and equipment are superseded by new models in a year or two. It wasn’t too long ago that leading companies in the world came out with a LIMS package which had the revolutionary concept of getting all the equipment used for analysis in the laboratory on one platform. Equipment manufacturers were running from pillar to post to get the big names in analytics compatible with their equipment. Now, even a small manufacturer is talking of the Internet of Things! Everyone is talking of controlling equipment from home and checking results or Go/No Go options thru the night. Most manufacturers are proposing the use of Cloud storage for quick availability and transfer of data and regulatory authorities are examining the methodology to accept such data or proof from these sources.
Another very important aspect to be considered is Collaboration. Team environments are necessary to workflows and efficacy of the lab. Most Research labs are to be designed for multidisciplinary environments and so are academic labs. Empty spaces are now needed for people to mingle, talk on the phone and watch the internet for information, where security could be sacrosanct. Creating such spaces enabling colleagues to coordinate swiftly and efficiently is the need of the hour.
Amidst all this, it is of great importance that the “End Use” of building this facility is not forgotten. The basic purpose of the laboratory is to enable science. Is our design making this happen in a comfortable safe place, meeting or surpassing all norms of sustainability, safety and environmental regulations? Has the laboratory been designed in consonance with the Workflow of the discipline? Has functionality been given the pride of place, as it is the cornerstone for deliverables in the lab? Many are the times one has visited a lab and seen people crowding in a small room around the laboratory manager in a Quality Control environment and the poor hassled individual signing reports while standing. The amount of paperwork generated in a laboratory for regulatory purposes is legend. One has seen literally dozens of youngsters running around with bundles of papers or folders, files in a Formulation laboratory. Have these factors been considered in our design?
As is evident, the ideal laboratory will empower the scientist to dream, visualise, create matter within the eco system made for them. The confluence of design engineering, end user workflows and aesthetics requires a high level of expertise and understanding of the sciences. It makes immense sense to start at the end and involve equipment manufacturers and suppliers at the beginning itself, since eventually it is their products which do the actual Lab work. Ideally, there should be a robust relationship between the two ends Design engineering and Product manufacturers, users, who will contribute to the creation of the perfect laboratory.
We need this to enable science and Empower the Scientist!!