September 24, 2020

Getting to Know Our Science Team

The members of our Science & Technology practice are industry leaders in the design of award-winning laboratories across the country. We sat down with three of our leaders for a quick Q&A to hear their insights about the current state of science research and learning and what they expect in the market moving forward.

First, let’s meet our three team members.

Steve Copenhagen, LEED AP, is the “go to” of our science practice. Any obscure, complicated, or seemly unsolvable problem that arises, Steve is the guy we call.

Alissa McFarland, AIA, LEED AP, is a senior laboratory designer who is passionate about delivering complex science environments so her clients can thrive. An expert in animal research environments, Alissa was selected to speak at the prestigious AALAS conference this year.

Erik Terry, LEED AP, understands the unique challenges researchers and educators often face and uses his expertise in laboratory planning and design to develop innovative solutions for the ever-changing science landscape.

We asked our three team members to answer the same five questions. Here are their responses below:

Read more about our award-winning science practice >

What new trend in science has you thinking differently about the way we have typically gone about designing for these spaces?

SC: The combination of basic, clinical and applied research into producing process and/or product outcomes that have immediate application to the improvement in our quality of life.

AM: The AI Revolution supports advances across a range of scientific disciplines, leading to societal and economic benefits. AI may require changes to the skills compositions in research teams, or new forms of collaboration across teams and between academia and industry that allow both to access the advanced data science skills needed to apply AI and the compute power to build AI systems, inherently prioritizing the space for these collaborations to take place.

ET: One of the continued defining trends has been the utilization of Deep Learning and Real World Evidence as a way to identify key usage patterns and look for treatments targeted to a specific set of patients or conditions. Data mining has expanded to harness information from other technology and innovations that drive data. The trend in recent years towards the personalization of medicines has benefited from predictive analytics as well as scientific advances in areas such as genomics, cell biology and companion diagnostics. There is a need to create technology-rich computational spaces that allow for team connectivity to share large data sets of information. There is a need to rethink IT infrastructure. Buildings need to respond to greater demand for connectivity as well as high-speed data infrastructure for super and cloud computing.

What is your approach to working with many different user groups and voices throughout a project?

SC: Different user groups have a common goal of productive research projects/programs. My goal is to understand what they need to be successful in both their current and future projects. Listening and understanding their visions (the real reason they are in research), how there may be common challenges and missed opportunities that get in the way of reaching their goals. Helping them get past the “wouda-coulda-shoulda” stumbling blocks. Many times the users are looking for solutions to the current problems preventing them from advancing their research. Many times these are infrastructure limitations that have large price tags to overcome or simply better connectivity sharing ideas and results.

AM: Listening to all parties, observing and helping user groups to see beyond their current workflows to allow design to optimize their processes and the way they work together to achieve their goals. All while engaging the larger group to suss out the collective vision that decision making gets tied back to.

ET: The big picture challenge that I face is how to get clients and users to work and think differently about their laboratory environment. I work to help clients and end-users to understand that it is not just the physical facility that drives change and innovation, but also how they organize themselves and work together that can be truly paradigm-shifting. Sometimes as designers, we think that the only way to be innovative is to introduce large open gathering spaces, or a novel shape, or by completely reorganizing the programmatic functions. Sometimes it’s less about the grand movements and more about introducing simple useful elements that create novel change.

What is the biggest work-related challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it?

SC: Projects where I have been isolated from direct communication and contact with the user groups. This makes it very hard to understand the physical and functional facility needs driven by the science and not driven by the “this is how we have always done it” approach. Just make the building generic and flexible to accommodate “science” and we will make it work for anybody. You overcome this approach through education about the different range of infrastructural requirements for the different sciences. Yes, we can give you a project that can accommodate any program, at any time, anywhere in the building, but it would be a massive waste of underutilized resources. Let’s look at the range of science that you envision as potential occupants and develop a common denominator that will define the functional criteria and document the capacity limitations for the project.

AM: The biggest challenge has been being remote from my co-workers and clients as we weather COVID; I thrive on collaboration and connection. Although we have great tools to stay connected virtually, the human to human interaction can’t be replaced. The silver lining is being able to spend more time with my daughter, teaching her, and seeing the world through her eyes is a joy I’m grateful for.

ET: The biggest challenge is being open to new ideas. Because of the technical aspect and health and safety concerns with science and technology facilities, there is a tendency to become set in designing in one way based on past experience. I have found that it is important to be open and to look to balance conventional industry practices and rules of thumb while being open to testing the industry norms and step out of the mindset of there is one way to solve a problem. I have found it important because that is the only way to gain a fresh perspective on planning and designing laboratory environments.

What is your favorite building, lab-related or not?

SC: In addition to my home, buildings that respect and enhance the functional needs of the users, and inspire all who see them. Hagia Sophia, Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, CJ Blossom Park.

AM: That’s like asking who is your favorite child!  I was fortunate to spend a semester of architecture studies abroad and admired the work of architects like Zaha Hadid, Carlos Scarpa, Peter Zumthor, Renzo Piano, Santiago Calatrava, Jean Nouvel, and Antoni Gaudí.  Their work transported me to another world, and was always uniquely detailed, pushing the envelope in regards to form, structure, or technology.  If I had to pick one, Gaudí’s Basílica de la Sagrada Família, and I also hope to get to visit Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute someday.

ET: My favorite building is the USAMRIID Replacement Facility. It is a remarkable building that bridges design with the technical environments for biocontainment and animal research. I started on the project planning in 2001 and was part of the design team that delivered the documentation to the DOD/Army in 2009. I was able to visit the building as it was coming to completion in 2019. It is a project that has spanned a significant portion of my carrier, and it is a once in a lifetime project. I was lucky to have had the chance to work with a variety of amazing people made up of both Army and civilian scientific staff on such a unique and influential building.

What kinds of hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?

SC: Reading, traveling, learning about something new and studying about it. Tinkering and fixing anything – if it is broken, you can only make it better.

AM: I love to travel and explore new places, and have a new passport ready to go post-COVID. In the meantime, I enjoy spending the time I’m not working with my family, cooking for them and trying new recipes, and getting outdoors as much as possible to cycle, kayaking or hike.

ET: I try to give as much of my free time volunteering to train and coach soccer. It is a way to break away from the office and get time to be outside and give back to the community. During that time I always try to impress upon the kids the importance of teamwork and working together toward a common goal. Being on the field with the kids always reminds me of how success is based on the team and not an individual.