The accelerating pace of scientific change is straining the infrastructure that supports it. An ever-shifting mix of collaborations, groups, and protocols requires a physical space that can quickly reconfigure to handle new projects, group sizes and changing instrumentation. The solution: a new breed of agile laboratories that can be adapted to a range of projects needs and research focus.
This typically involves a robust infrastructure, highly adaptable furnishings, and specialist support spaces for sensitive instrumentation, higher hazard work, and other unique requirements.
Despite that, flex labs are hardly the norm, accounting for fewer than one in five labs at top institutions, according to CBRE. Part of the reason is cost, as the flexible infrastructure and furnishings may increase construction cost. However, the inherent resiliency of a highly flexible lab provides rapid, low disruption changeability and greatly improves life cycle cost.
Bendy Flex Labs: Highly Agile Spaces
- Agile space that can be adapted and reconfigured for evolving team size, research focus, and instrumentation with fixed elements at the lab perimeters and movable furnishings in the center.
- Modular, reconfigurable laboratory support spaces directly accessed from the primary laboratory.
- Glass walls to provide access to natural daylight, transparency and visual connectivity.
- A smart facade designed to respond to sun, wind, and heat to maximize energy efficiency without sacrificing views or daylight.
South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI)
This new 315,000 gsf/188,000m2 translational research facility in Adelaide deploys an emerging lab typology designed to foster agility and collaboration. Glass-enclosed atria, bridges, and an interconnecting staircase help to create inter-floor visual connectivity. The building itself is lifted, enabling an open ground plane that encourages public interaction and a seamless connection to surrounding parkland while minimizing the heat island effect. The building’s unique triangle-shaped façade responds to the environment like a living organism, adjusting to sunlight, head, and wind while maintaining views and access to daylight. Energy efficient features include rainwater harvesting, outdoor air supply, and real-time consumption monitoring.
SAHMRI’s laboratories are organised into two connected pods or neighbourhoods per floor, rather than isolated, walled-off clusters, accommodating 60 researchers each with direct visual and physical connection to their open workplace. Multiple interdisciplinary research groups occupy each pod, which has both shared and dedicated smaller support labs and integral shared core facilities. The open lab pods are furnished with highly reconfigurable, custom built laboratory furnishings which can be quickly rearranged as required due to self-supporting service spines which are fed from recessed ceiling quick-connects. Benches can be raised, lowered, rotated or removed, and services can be added via the service spines. While a certain number of lab support spaces are fitted out with dedicated functions such as fume hood alcoves or tissue culture rooms, which are unlikely to change, most of the lab support spaces are provided a “plug and play” infrastructure to support a wide variety of functions over the life of the facility. Each flex support lab has connections for a movable sink, a future fume hood or snorkel, and a system to allow environmental and room pressure changes. These rooms are currently in use for analytical instrumentation, microscopy, radioisotope work, PCR and DNA work. The flexible core facilities, provided with each pod but shared with the entire institute, have infrastructure to support a wide variety of translational research related core facilities, which currently consist of mass spectrometry, confocal microscopy, protein crystallization, and bioinformatics.
The post occupancy survey indicates the adaptability of the facility has proven highly beneficial, with minimal cost or down time for changes, and that the desired interdisciplinary collocation and collaboration is greatly enhanced by the building's architecture and the planned “collision spaces”, helping SAHMRI attract and retain the best talent to Adelaide.