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Labs: Latest and Greatest

Monday, June 11, 2018
Written by: Matt Sutter, AIA, LEED AP - CEO

Have you been in a new college/university lab building lately? 

The term STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, Math) seems to be at the forefront of every college and university. These fields are in great demand within companies across the nation and are also required as core classes for nearly every other major. Science facilities in most colleges are dated, many having been constructed in the 1950s and 1960s. Teaching has changed significantly in the last 60 years as well as incoming student and parent expectations. Some colleges have science facilities that are well below the level of the high schools where their students have previously studied.

Labs have changed. We are at the forefront of designing the latest and greatest in regards to labs:

National Expertise
A national perspective on the best practices that other institutions and corporations are putting in place helps to develop solutions that local faculty may not have seen in other regional labs. SoL Harris/Day regularly teams with BCJ out of Pittsburgh who has that national perspective.

Science in Sight
Science has great looking spaces with lots of great equipment. These should be in view from the common spaces of the building. It is interesting, there is hands on learning going on. It needs to be seen, it will inspire others to be involved.

Visual Safety
Science routinely requires a small number of people to be in larger spaces with dangerous chemicals in close proximity. Being able to see across the entire lab from the corridor and within the room creates an enhanced level of safety.

The old lab model from the 1960s and 1970s puts the labs on the interior of the building, away from the windows. With better glass technology, this layout is not required any more. Studies have shown that having access to natural light increases awareness and the ability to learn. 

Hands-On Flexible Maker Spaces
Industry has long been a proponent of creating open, flexible spaces for testing labs. Physics is headed in that direction with movable, rolling tables, overhead electrical cordreels and integrated audio visual systems.

Teaching in Labs

Teaching within the lab space is not costly. Careful placement of lab tables with comfortable chairs and views to multiple TVs and whiteboards makes for an intimate teaching experience, resulting in an involved group of students.

Green Hoods
Typical science fume hoods send chemicals outside the building and into the environment and require a lot of energy to bring in outside air to replace the air that is exhausted by the hoods. It is very costly to heat up winter air that is 10 degrees before bringing it into the building. Green hoods filter the toxic exhaust and keep the warm, clean air inside the building. SoL Harris/Day designed the first lab in the United States with these green hoods. Each of these green hoods have the potential to save $5,000 per year in energy costs.

Undergraduate Research

Funding is often tied to research projects. An ambitious faculty member can bring significant funds into a university through grants for research. Undergraduate research is on the rise in the U.S. as more students seek out hands-on learning opportunities. Creating spaces in which you can teach and also do research needs to be considered.

Virtual Reality
The technology is now here to turn a simple iPhone into a virtual reality viewer. Combine that with 3D goggles and you can walk inside and outside the design of a new building while it is still in the design phase. This is especially easy and intuitive for the 80% of people who cannot visualize a two-dimensional drawing. No expensive software to download. It is all free to use for donors, faculty, administration or anyone else with whom you can share a website link.

These are just some of the latest and greatest ideas going on in lab design. There are many more we could share with you in person.

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