When designing a lab, the primary objective should be to create a safe, accessible and well thought out space for laboratory personnel to perform effectively, while maintaining maximum flexibility for safe research and teaching use. In the earliest stages of design, understanding and collecting information on the purpose and function of the laboratory is crucial.

The more information gathered during the preliminary stages of the process, the more understanding is gained both by the client and the designer. Elements such as health and safety hazards and workflow needs can be anticipated and carefully evaluated and reflected in the design.

The Design Brief

A design brief or set of questions are a highly effective way to achieve understanding of the laboratory space is to develop a list of specific questions to use as a basis for the design brief. This will assist in understanding the requirements of the space so that design approach, workflow mapping and safety requirements can be conceptualised.

A well thought out set of questions will improve efficiency of the process by minimizing the time commitments of laboratory staff and personnel. As the project design process evolves the brief will be further developed with increasingly specific questions.

Key Considerations for the Design Brief

The initial design brief and discussion should cover the following 7 points which are described below.

1. Type and Function of the Laboratory

It is important to understand the laboratory category, the core outcomes and purpose prior to designing your space. There are many types of laboratories and each type may differ in its purpose to deliver a specific outcome. Understanding the purpose and outcome is key to successful workflow and design delivery. Westlab provides end users and architects with fundamentals to assist them understand the importance of function over form and the impact of good design on the purpose and outcome of laboratory types.

2. Generic Laboratory Design to Cater for Present and Future

While it is important to cater for existing staff requirements, it is unlikely that a design that is solely based on the current situation will satisfy the laboratory’s future requirements. Renovating and redeveloping can be extremely costly and will result in inefficiencies and impracticalities that will hinder staff productivity.

The brief needs to be designed generically to satisfy most of the current needs and also suit the anticipated requirements of the future.

A highly flexible and modular system that is easily adaptable supports a generic design as staff can easily adapt their space according to their changing requirements.

3. Catering for Staff Needs

It is important to gather information based on the staff currently working in the laboratory, as well as ensuring the design is generic. Identifying elements such as the number of workstations required, requirements for functional bench space and the ability to separate or combine those elements. Identifying the nature of the laboratory members work will assist in staff placement and workflow processes.

For example: A dedicated workbench may be required by staff who work individually on projects or on general daily work. Hazardous workspaces require separation from other benches and away from windows to prevent contamination.

Understanding the placing of these workbenches would be critical in the lab design process.

4. Hazards

It is important that hazards within a laboratory, existing and potential, are clearly identified and located, so the design can accommodate the safety requirements.

Hazards may include wastes such as chemical, biological, sharps and fumes. Appropriate methods should be carefully considered in the design phase so that the laboratory can function in a highly effective and safe manner.

5. Workspace, Benches and Services

In the design brief, it is important to list the various areas or rooms and their requirements. The design process focuses on each section in detail enabling the work to progress in a linear manner, dealing with each element in order, overcoming problems resulting in defining the best layout for maximum effectiveness.

Spaces will include individual partitioned workstations or individual work, laboratory practical space, cold rooms, storerooms, wash up areas and hazardous workspaces/rooms.

Resolving the lab down into individual spaces, allows identification of benching requirements, workstations and services required for each of the spaces. Identifying information of existing equipment and potential future equipment is also relevant to the amount of bench space and services that may be required.

6. Storage Requirements

Storage is a critical point to consider in the early stages of the design process. It is highly recommended that bench space is not used for storage. The cleaner and more streamlined the design, minimises clutter while maximising effectiveness. Storage requirements should be clearly defined including the most effective type of storage, especially for hazardous materials and equipment. It is important to assess incoming processes, around the receiving of material, so that the appropriate and most effective and efficient storage options are considered.

7. Equipment

All laboratory equipment should be addressed in the design brief. It should be indicated whether the equipment is floor standing or will require bench space. For optimal use of space, each individual item dimensions and clearance spaces should be noted. This will include a range of items such as fridges and freezers, incubators, autoclaves ovens, centrifuges and other automation instruments.

8. Site Measure Ups

Site measure-ups are encouraged early in the design stages. Collecting accurate information and observing the process in action assists in defining the purpose and functions of a laboratory firsthand for both the designer and the client.

9. 3D Design

For a well thought out design and layout, consideration and purpose are paramount to meeting the needs for all laboratory users and to assist in the ease of future expansions, relocation or refurbishment that may occur later.

At Westlab, we use of 3D design software to connect with our clients, assisting them with visualisation of their space through virtual technology. This software enables designers to obtain real-life understanding of the space and how we can accommodate with compliance issues early in the design process. Connecting to clients through video meetings such as Zoom, or face-to-face meetings, allows the design team to work through the design process.