In an industry where research, exploration, and innovation are constantly being pushed forward, lab design must keep up. The market for lab facilities is growing as advances in medicine, R&D, life sciences, and technology development continue. With approximately 800,000 square feet of lab and office space signed for in the golden triangle last year, the pressure is on for lab designers to stay abreast of modern lab requirements and demands.
With the wide-ranging needs of the science industry in terms of workspace efficiency, health and safety precautions, and accessibility, lab designers must draw on cutting-edge solutions and creativity to supply the labs of the future. So what does the future look like for lab design?
Predicting the Future of Laboratory Design
The landscape for laboratory design will be defined by flexibility, technology integration, and sustainability.
Flexibility and Adaptability
Flexibility is an essential aspect of lab design now and in the future. With the advancement of technology and research, ways of working change, equipment is upgraded, teams grow, shrink, and change dynamics. An adaptable lab is one that is future-proof, capable of meeting new demands, whatever they may be.
Flexible lab design starts with an open-plan laboratory layout. An open plan should provide opportunities for different arrangements of furniture and workstation without restricting the area to a certain layout. Modular lab design incorporating movable furniture with locking castors and adaptive utility systems means the space can be reconfigured at will.
There’s no cost associated with rearranging the lab design scheme, meaning the lab can always be at it’s most efficient, eliminating the need for extensive renovation and giving way to accelerated productivity with artful use of lab space no matter the project at hand.
Open-plan labs are also essential to facilitate cloud-based collaborative activities and hybrid ways of working. A flexible lab should give way for scientists to connect and collaborate remotely and in person. It’s also essential that the lab is designed to be accessible to everyone’s needs. Modular lab units also allow for an increase in plug-and-play devices to be used.
What will smart labs look like?
Cloud-based technology and labs built for remote and hybrid working will enable better data sharing and creative ways of working, but they only scratch the surface of the smart laboratories that will define future design approaches. The increasing capabilities of artificial intelligence will be harnessed in lab work where processes can be automated, human error eliminated, and opportunities acted on in a fraction of the time they once were. Lab design must accommodate these new AI, AR, and VR advances.
Sensor-powered, responsive equipment, smart devices and tools, self-cleaning work branches, smart goggles, data visualisation instruments, computational modelling software, and robotic workstations are just some smart lab elements designers must incorporate into new, agile laboratory design. These adaptations will make way for better-performing labs and more creative and appealing working environments.
Sustainable Lab Design
Sustainability is at the forefront of our mission as designers, conscious of the pressure on the planet due to resource uptake, harmful emissions, and unethical ways of working. With statistics like that published by The University of Oxford that their labs account for 60% of total energy consumption and emissions across the whole university, it’s clear that labs can be among those with the largest carbon footprint.
The future of making labs more sustainable sees the industry turning towards eco-conscious initiatives like net-carbon zero. With this trend, lab designers must creatively incorporate sustainability into projects. Renewable resources such as recycled and reclaimed material, renewable energy sources like solar PV panels, and a focus on natural materials, furnishing, and elements like natural lighting, will pave the way for lab sustainability. Full lifecycle lab suppliers will be in high demand, and the wellbeing of lab users and communities affected by the projects will also be at the fore.
Lab designers will continue to work towards sustainability frameworks such as LEED, BREEAM, and the WELL Building Standard, which set out key ramifications and define the scope of sustainable practices in design.
How to Future-Proof Your Lab Design
Future-proofing a laboratory starts in the concept design stage. This is when we lay the essential groundwork to ensure the lab ultimately meets the needs of flexibility, sustainability, and the integration of cutting-edge tech.
So what are the key design elements we consider to ensure a lab is prepared for the future?
Element of Design
The lab should be designed as an open plan with flexibility and accessibility in mind. Consider the changing needs of the space and how to facilitate reconfiguration of the layout whilst ensuring it can be used to its potential.
Multipurpose spaces with modular units, vertical storage, and compact elements enable versatile use of the space.
Infrastructure should accommodate developments in technology, such as new devices, an increase in demand for power, and new machines. Infrastructure should be easy to upgrade.
Consider how and what types of technology will be used in the lab; integration of smart technologies is key. Artificial intelligence and automation are only set to grow in prevalence in lab settings. Hybrid works, virtual collaborations, and cloud-based work also define the lab's design.
Sustainable practices should lead all lab design: where can energy use be more efficient, materials be sustainably sourced or recovered, and processes be eco-conscious? Consider the suppliers, contractors, and third parties and ensure their objectives align with sustainability where possible.
Consider scalability to future-proof a lab design. How can the space be adapted, expanded, and anticipate the changing needs of those using it?
Emerging Technologies Impacting Lab Designs
New technologies define the shape of future lab design, calling for more complex IT infrastructure, larger, adaptable spaces, and energy consumption considerations. Here are some of the largest types of emerging tech that will be used in labs now and in the future.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Intended to make processes more efficient, accurate, and powerful, AI and ML will bring a digital-first approach to labs to which designers must respond. Equipping lab space with the necessary hardware and software, ensuring it is flexible, versatile, and accommodating are key.
Automation and Robotics
Productivity and accuracy are also being bolstered by more and more use of robotic systems in labs. Working closely with lab clients is essential to understand to the intended use of robotics in labs and respond to ensure workflows are optimised, and safety is prioritised.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
By extension of smart technology integration, VR and AR will become more prevalent for training, research, testing, and study. Creatively integrating these into lab environments should ensure the space is suitable and safe.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The IoT is so wide-ranging in its applications the possibilities for inclusion in lab design are limitless. Work with clients to understand their needs and goals for incorporating IoT and anticipate developments to facilitate future-proof design.
For laboratory design that sets you up for whatever the future holds, talk to Area. We’re expert lab designers driven by sustainability and innovation.