Our expert laboratory designers attended and presented recently at the 2019 Laboratory Design conference in Orlando, Florida, where the Lab of the Year award winners were also announced. Two inspiring projects were included, with special recognition going to University of Texas at Dallas Engineering and Computer Science West. The overall winner was MIT.nano, a brand-new nanotechnology facility at the Massachusetts Institute of technology.
We came away inspired and ready to take on the challenges our clients face when designing modern laboratories to meet the needs of science research and learning. Here are the five big ideas from the conference that stood out to us.
1. Researcher wellness is priority No. 1 to recruit and retain top talent
The modern scientist is rightfully demanding more out of his/her research environment. Often, traditional methodologies and long-lasting beliefs of laboratory design are not the right fit of the fast-changing, constantly innovating institutions of today. Our own Steven Copenhagen and Toni Loiacano discussed three case studies where traditional lab planning ideas were replaced by innovative lab design strategies — helping these organizations create dynamic and boundary-less environments to increase productivity, efficiency and creativity. The case studies were:
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Building 201
CJ Blossom Park
Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, Cambridge Campus
2. Smart labs give a huge advantage to analyzing building performance
Smart buildings are nothing new, but technology in the laboratory environment is more robust and abundant than ever before. Jeffrey Zapfe from Acentech and Jorg Scholvin from MIT presented on the Laboratory of the Year 2019 winner, MIT.nano, a brand-new nanotechnology facility at the Massachusetts Institute of technology. To prevent future performance degradation, MIT.nano is using a real-time and continuous live monitoring of the building’s environment so that any issues can be proactively identified and fixed.
3. Excellent design can help our clients achieve higher national research rankings
Expertly designed laboratories can boost a research institution’s ranking by focusing on key factors within the ranking process. Brian Kowalchuk of HDR discussed how creating a successful, iconic research facility can positively influence ranking factors such as grant funding, commitment to growth, peer recognition, distinguished faculty and alumni, and many others.
4. Designing sustainable laboratories are no longer an option – it is a priority
With an increased focus on the bottom line, organizations are constantly searching for money-saving solutions for their largest energy-consuming building assets. Often, laboratories consume the most energy due to air change rates and specialized equipment. Many presentations covered novel concepts that could be introduced in laboratory environments. Punit Jain from CannonDesign presented on Webster University’s Interdisciplinary Science Building where unique stormwater management features and an existing chilled water loop system won the project an ASHRAE award for innovation.
5. We need to start thinking about the next generation of laboratory designers
The final session of the conference focused on the future with a panel discussion about the next generation of laboratory designers. Cynthia Walston from CannonDesign moderated the panel that included Patricia Larrabee from Facility Logix, Punit Jain from CannonDesign, and Victoria David from DLR Group. Preparing for the next generation of lab designers requires current professionals to mentor and train those passionate about lab design. They discussed topics like diversity, training programs, professional development, recruitment and a call to action to create local chapters of I2SL and AIA Knowledge Communities for Lab Design to enable exposure for emerging professionals as well as get involved in the schools.
Architecture is always evolving to keep in step with society. Roland Lemke, a principal in our DC office, is approaching his 30th year in the industry. He points out that while there are always fads that come and go, some lasting changes in architecture are clearly present in today’s practice. For different perspectives, Roland and two other CannonDesigners at different points in their careers discuss what has changed in architecture – and where it’s heading.
Charu McDermott has worked in architecture for 15 years. She’s noticed that “what’s hot” is always shifting with “peaks and valleys in the markets.”
“Firms that are diversified and can shift teams around are more successful,” she says. Charu has worked with CannonDesign for the last two years primarily with the Science and Technology practice.
With five years of experience, Brock Scharborough, hasn’t noticed many trends fading, but he does have an idea of what’s coming up.
Left to right: Roland Lemke, Charu McDermott, Brock Scharborough
“There is a huge trend to integrate wellness into our designs for our higher education clients,” Brock says. “Wellness affects the day-to-day and the end goal in design. Ultimately, with wellness integrated, people are more motivated and have a better balance in their lives.”
Brock not only sees wellness in current designs, but also influencing policies within CannonDesign itself – noting the firm adopting summer hours. Brock believes that “wellness is an important aspect in work/life balance.”
The wellness trend is apparent in many projects. For Roland, the University of Florida Student Union stands out.
“The other student unions I worked on were about dining space, retail, meeting rooms,” Roland says. “On this project, they wanted the student engagement, clubs, organizations, and culture on display from the inside out.”
University of Florida, Reitz Student Union, Gainesville, FL
Interdisciplinary & Flexible Design
For Brock, another shift in architecture is a heightened interest in interdisciplinary fusion where once-siloed disciplines now are collocated into one building to encourage innovation, ideas-sharing and collaboration. One stand-out example is the University of Maryland College Park Human Performance and Academic Research Facility at Cole Fieldhouse.
“It’s an exemplary integrated project where science and technology, health, and athletics are all working and functioning together in a higher education project,” says Brock.
Charu also sees that approach succeeding in laboratory design.
“The space is designed to change to meet its needs; it’s not specific to a user group.”
Charu points out that much of the lab planning is “moving towards being open and on a universal grid.”
What is the universal grid? “It’s spacing and methodologies that allow for the creation of pathways that can grow and are accessible,” Roland says.
To envision the grid at work, he gives the example: “The space above the ceiling can hold more pipes, wires, whatever it needs in the future. Knowing the space from floor to ceiling, to next floor, gives it the ability to be added to and accessible.”
Charu says that this type of adaptability in design “cuts down on the teardown and rebuild to keep up.”
University of Maryland, Cole Field House, College Park, MD
Moving Beyond “Green”
Designing today means designing for the future; sustainability is a key element to consider in that process.
Roland recalls the introduction of LEED and USGBC was “fairly transformational.” Now, more than 20 years later, he notes “a lot of what was LEED has become code.”
Integrating environmental considerations as a requirement of building code and reckoning what a client wants can still be a challenge.
“Some clients with budgetary constraints will seek to check the boxes, make it to code, nothing more,” Roland says. “Others will seek out that certification as it helps in their positioning.”
“I think there’s a shift in how for some companies it’s incorporated in their values,” Charu echoes the difference in clients’ approach. “The client going into a new space will see how the investment pays off after taking that first cost. If the client is going to be inhabiting the space for a long time, the return on investment will be there.”
Brock’s takeaway is there’s a widespread understanding now about sustainability.
“We’re moving away from a time of slapping a sticker on something and calling it ‘green,’” he says. “Clients have come to recognize the social, economic and ecological impacts and why sustainability matters.”
A recent project for The Potomac School has given Brock a chance to explore embodied energy and sustainable materials.
“Wood construction and engineered timber are sustainable, faster to produce than steel, offer carbon filtering, noise reduction and are growing in prominence in the industry.”
For The Potomac School project, Brock was able to integrate the use of glued laminated timber or glulam. Brock championed this innovation through county approval processes and made the case for its benefits. The building is currently under construction.
The Potomac School, New Athletic Center, Potomac, McLean, VA
Major Advancements in Technology
Innovation is often intrinsically linked with technology. The rise and evolution of technology are evident in the design and the day-to-day work of designers at CannonDesign.
“I didn’t use computers in school,” Roland laughs. “Technology transforms how we do what we do. From not existing, to what it was, to what it has become – each of those innovations made the work faster and more efficient.”
Charu reflects on the fact that when she first started, everything was AutoCad and Revit was a big shift. “With Revit and working with BIM there’s a lot more data attached to what you’re drawing.”
BIM creates 3D models that give greater detail than previous design tools. For Charu, that makes things “easier to visualize and see what needs to be added.”
“It allows for more creativity in some aspects,” Roland points out. “Now we can give contractors more information so it’s easier to design interesting shaped buildings – you can see it in every angle and form.”
Having grown with the industry from days of drawing by hand and through the improvements of CAD, Roland sees the changes broken down as periods.
“It started with computers just replicating what you could do by hand. Just lines and circles and single drawings, unattached to each other. The next decade saw how this drawing can now manipulate this drawing. Object-based drawing is this decade and it’s completely different.”
If technology continues growing and taking some of the heavy lifting of details off designers with automated programs, is there any concern in future advancements?
“It could make our job less meaningful,” Brock muses. “We have to get in front of it, write our own narrative and make sure we’re still relevant and have a purpose.”
With an eye on future changes in architecture and design, Charu says “designers always welcome new challenges. Solving problems is a part of every job. There’s a learning curve to each project and it’s something we feed off. Without it, everything would be the same: monotonous and boring.”
Using BIM allows for more innovative user experiences such as virtual reality technology.
It has been 49 years since our first Earth Day in 1970.
Forty-nine years is quite a run. The passion and awareness ignited during those inaugural events in 1970 have driven significant positive change in our relationship with the natural environment. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and many will undoubtedly hoist up that number proudly.
This year, however, let’s focus on a different number: 11.
According to a report released in 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we must halve our emissions by 2030 to avoid a future defined by catastrophic climate change. That deadline is just 11 years away.
CannonDesign knows we must bring critical focus in this short span of time. Nearly ten years ago we signed onto the AIA 2030 commitment. In it, we pledged that all new buildings, developments, and major renovations we design will be carbon neutral – requiring no fossil fuel or GHG-emitting energy for operations. Instead, we’d rely on clean energy to power our built environment.
We knew then this would be a massive challenge, but one worth striving toward. Like many decades-long plans, when our commitment was signed we had the benefit of time. Today, we do not – but we do now have a few resources almost as valuable.
Our firm and industry have made great strides in advocating for low carbon building solutions. In doing so, we’ve educated ourselves, learning how to best monitor our progress and promote our most important and innovative ideas.
Ten years ago, building energy use was quantifiable by a small percentage of engineers and an even smaller percentage of architects. Technology was available but was not widely used or known.
Today, thanks to our industry’s continued leadership through the American Institute of Architects, Architecture 2030, and with help from incredible partners in the software community, we have sophisticated tools that are both accessible and integrated into our workflows.
We are fast approaching the year 2030. While we have had many successes, the transition to carbon neutrality needs to accelerate significantly. Time is not on our side, but we can use that reality to motivate us.
Of course, Earth Day, environmental awareness, and sustainability are about more than just building energy consumption. We must also think about how we’ll take action related to embodied carbon, material health, and resilience among other issues key to the building industry. While more generally, plastic pollution, air/water quality, and forest protection loom larger than ever. There are many ways we can individually recognize Earth Day 2019.
Our planet faces rapid, perilous and unprecedented threats from climate change. It has become the greatest challenge of our time. We have what it takes to meet this challenge, but we will need courage, commitment and sincere urgency to help us achieve our 2030 goals.
Time may not be on our side. But, Earth Day is a chance to look around and recognize the millions of people who do stand with us. Around the world, companies, institutions, cities, states, and nations are stepping up their commitments and demanding better. We are lucky to work with some of these organizations as they clear paths for others to follow.
We all have an impact on this planet and therefore a chance to ensure that is a positive one. This is our hope, inspiration, and potential – that together we can honor the vision of those who launched Earth Day 49 years ago, and preserve this planet as we know it for the generations to follow.