The Future of Laboratory Design

Tetra Tech’s High Performance Buildings Group discusses the emerging laboratory design development.

Flexibility in research laboratory development has never been more critical. Rapid shifts in research requirements, lab development, and technological advancements demand a higher level of fit for purpose facilities, designed for reliability, and precision over an extended life cycle. Laboratory development has its own challenging design principles and considerations over and above those of an office block or shopping mall. Pursuing an intimate understanding of what the client research is trying to achieve, their processes, and design requirements is imperative.

Tetra Tech believes virtual and interactive technologies are already shaping laboratory procedures and environments. The concept of a virtual online laboratory is enabling the remote use of a lab via an external connection. Through developments in design engineering and information technology, labs can now be accessed remotely, enabling software to be downloaded, and tested remotely via camera. This is particularly useful in educational and hazardous environments where the use of chemical substances or radiation may represent a risk to human health. Remote access also facilitates a much heavier traffic schedule than otherwise possible, providing lab access to a much wider range of end users. Labs are undergoing a fundamental shift as to what can be accomplished.

This move into the next era of lab development reaps significant sustainability benefits. Laboratories are typically high energy consuming and waste producing. Sustainability pressures to deliver energy and water-efficient ratings is another important design consideration that poses a considerable challenge to this type of facility. This was also the challenge presented by the iconic six-story research center at Melbourne’s La Trobe Institute of Molecular Science which achieved a 5 Star Green Star rating.

The success of future lab facilities will be dependent on the integration of key sustainability initiatives coupled with flexibility and functionality. Embedding spare capacity in both building services infrastructure and spatially will enable the lab to be repurposed in the future. Tetra Tech has learned through the delivery of iconic research facilities that sustainability, future-proofing, provision of an environment that attracts leading researchers and promotes staff retention, and accommodation to expectations of leading researchers are important design considerations when developing a laboratory that will continue to deliver throughout its lifecycle.