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Academic laboratory buildings are living laboratories that advertise, enable, excite and inform everyone within range. They include both research and teaching labs. Academic research labs can be very similar to those of the private and government sectors while teaching labs are unique to the academic sector.
This Building Type page will further elaborate on the attributes and characteristics of Academic Laboratories.
A. Types of Spaces
An academic laboratory incorporates a number of space types to meet the needs of the students, teachers, faculty, staff, and visitors. These may include:
B. Teaching Laboratories
The Science Center provides a state-of-the-art setting for innovative teaching and research in the sciences and mathematics at Spelman College, Atlanta, GA.
Today's teaching laboratory acts as a flexible framework, holding dynamic student work groups, research zones, and support equipment in unlimited arrangements. As such, new design strategies must be put in place to address the needs of academic laboratory facilities:
- Building planners and owners must clearly understand where they are on the technology continuum and design to embrace the most current technology while creating a framework for the best technologies that will come.
Teaching laboratories differ from research labs in a number of ways. They require space for teaching equipment, such as a lectern and marker boards; they require storage space for student microscopes, book bags, and coats; and they have less instrumentation than in research labs. Also, teaching labs must support a wide range of dynamic activity from standard lectures to active team-based inquiry with all the tools and technology necessary to enable any teaching and learning task easily.
Interaction of learners and teachers occupying the same room has become more intentional, flexible and transparent to eliminate barriers and energize immediate and seamless collaboration. Classrooms must provide a greater level of visual and auditory contact between those sharing the room, and those beyond, to meet a higher standard of service to collaboration. Virtual reality and computer simulation technologies require more flexible space to serve these rapidly growing fields. Spaces must respond by becoming more flexible, changeable, and attuned to the senses.
Lighting and acoustic control must be more sophisticated and flexible in every room, to allow the varied technologies to perform at their best. Powerful image capture and audio technology is becoming more pervasive in rooms, including offices, where people share information. Acoustic control and the design of the HVAC systems must be more sophisticated and flexible in every room, to allow the varied technologies to perform at their best. The sound level in laboratories-including those with fume hoods-must be as low as the classrooms' to allow normal conversations and collaboration. Lighting systems are more energy efficient and typically include daylight sensors and occupancy sensors. In all spaces, the control of the lighting is more adjustable to serve the varied presentation technologies and changes in scientific events that occur in each space.
Some disciplines will require fixed casework, benches, and utilities, but many teaching labs have mobile casework (equipped with locks) installed in a way that allows for different teaching environments and for multiple classes to be taught in the same space. Some teaching labs even use casework that a student can easily change in height to accommodate sit-down (30 in.) or stand-up (36 in.) work. The flexibility of the furniture encourages a variety of teaching and learning scenarios. In fact, properties of traditional, fixed lab furniture (stability and vibration resistance) are merging with properties of rolling/adjustable computer furniture (infinite mobility, plug and play capability, changeability) to create a new type of furniture for most scientific pursuits. This new breed blends the need for computer connections to everything with the ability to change the individual and team work environment immediately, or move it to another space. The additional cost of flexible furniture is offset by the amount of space saved by eliminating the requirement for separate sit-down and stand-up workstations.
Depending on the discipline and number of students, shared bench space can range from 15 to 30 linear feet per teaching laboratory; is usually configured as perimeter wall bench or center island bench; and is used for benchtop instruments, exhibiting displays, or distributing glass materials. Ten to 20 linear feet of wall space per lab should be left available for storage cabinets, as well as for built-in and movable equipment such as refrigerators and incubators. A typical student workstation is 3 to 4 feet wide with a file cabinet and data and electrical hookups for computers. Fume hoods shared by two students should be at least 6 ft. wide. The distance between student workbenches and fume hoods should be minimized to lessen the possibility of chemical spills.
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Teaching lab caswork options.
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Flexible teaching lab designs.
For undergraduate courses, write-up areas are usually provided inside the lab. (Write-up areas for graduate students are generally located outside the lab, in offices.) A teaching lab must accommodate more people (i.e., students) and stools than does a typical research lab. Prep rooms, which allow faculty to set up supplies before classes, may be located between two teaching labs. The number of students typically enrolled in a course usually determines the size of the teaching lab used for that course. A typical lab module of 10 ft. 6 in. x 30 ft. (320 net square feet [nsf]) may support four to six students. An organic chemistry lab for 24 students would be approximately 1,600 nsf. Usually there is very little, if any, overhead shelving in the center of a lab. Overhead storage is at the perimeter walls, and the center of the lab has only base cabinets so as to maintain better sight lines for teaching and learning.
Lab courses are commonly taught from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. from Monday through Friday. As budgets tighten and continuing education and distance learning continue to grow in popularity, however, evening and Saturday classes may become more common in many colleges and universities. Moreover, some teaching labs being designed today will also be used for research. Because of these reasons, mechanical systems should be designed to be able to run at full capacity 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Also, a flexible design is recommended to accommodate enrollment fluctuations. A separate discussion room shared by several teaching labs may be an alternative to accommodating lectures in the lab. Teaching labs may be located adjacent to research labs in order to share resources. For example, if adjacent, advanced organic and inorganic chemistry labs and introductory chemistry labs can share some equipment.
C. Integrating Teaching and Research Labs
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Integrated teaching and research lab designs.
As the need for flexibility has grown and as science instruction, even at the undergraduate level, focuses more and more on hands-on experience, the traditional distinction between teaching and research labs becomes less important. An increasing number of institutions are integrating these areas to enhance undergraduate curricula and to facilitate communication between faculty and students at all levels. The greatest variances between teaching and research labs are space allocation and equipment needs. To compensate for those differences, some new facilities are designed with greater flexibility to allow lab space to be more adaptable and productive. There are several reasons for creating "homogenous" lab facilities:
- Students at all levels are introduced to current techniques.
- Such facilities encourage interaction between faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates.
- A standard laboratory module with basic services accommodates change quickly and economically.
- Common and specialized equipment may be shared.
- Common facilities can share support spaces, such as instrument rooms, prep rooms, and specialty rooms.
- Greater utilization of space and equipment enhances project cost justification.
Technology in Academic Laboratories
- Special scientific equipment that was typically held in a few rooms designed only for that purpose is now distributed in instrument rooms, student faculty research labs and teaching labs. More robust and more adaptable electrical and mechanical systems must be designed to allow the distribution of such equipment throughout the building.
Florida Atlantic University, Charles E. Schmidt Biomedical Science Center, Boca Raton, FL, Architect: Perkins + Will Completion: Fall 2001 Size: 90,000 gsf
Charles E. Schmidt Biomedical Science Center-Boca Raton, FL
(Courtesy of STH Architectural Group, Inc.)
Florida Atlantic University has created a new concept that combines both open and closed labs to accommodate core research teams. Many researchers still prefer to have some research space of their own. Consequently, 640 nsf are provided for each researcher, primarily for his or her own use and specific equipment. Another 640 nsf have been programmed for each researcher, located in a large open lab. This lab has fume hoods, laminar flow hoods, equipment, and casework to be shared by the entire research team. There can be a variety of research core areas (82 ft. x 82 ft.) on the second and third floors.
Another idea implemented in this facility is a two-directional grid that allows the casework to be organized in either the north/south or east/west orientation. This provides for maximum flexibility and allows the researchers to create labs that meet their needs.
The labs are arranged with 50 percent casework and 50 percent equipment zones. The equipment zones allow the research team to locate equipment, mobile casework, or fixed casework in their lab when they move in. The equipment and future casework will be funded with other budgets or grants. This concept is very important for this project for two reasons. First, the university has not yet hired the faculty, so the specific research requirements are still unknown. Second, this concept reduces the casework cost in the initial construction budget by at least 40 percent ($600,000). The cost will be added to the furniture budget when the mobile casework is purchased.
The interior design is being developed with the use of the three-dimensional (3-D) modeling. Computer modeling gives the design team, and most importantly, the client, an opportunity to study all aspects of the interior spaces as they will exist when the project is completed. The 3-D modeling also ensures that all design decisions are thoughtfully resolved by the end of the design development process.
Relevant Codes and Standards
The following agencies and organizations have developed codes and standards affecting the design of research laboratories. Note that the codes and standards are minimum requirements. Architects, engineers, and consultants should consider exceeding the applicable requirements whenever possible.
Building / Space Types
- Building Type Basics for Research Laboratories, 2nd Edition by Daniel Watch. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008. ISBN# 978-0-470-16333-7.
- CRC Handbook of Laboratory Safety, 5th ed. by A. Keith Furr. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2000.
- Design and Planning of Research and Clinical Laboratory Facilities by Leonard Mayer. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1995.
- Design for Research: Principals of Laboratory Architecture by Susan Braybrooke. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1993.
- Guidelines for Laboratory Design: Health and Safety Considerations, 4th Edition by Louis J. DiBerardinis, et al. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 2013.
- Guidelines for Planning and Design of Biomedical Research Laboratory Facilities by The American Institute of Architects, Center for Advanced Technology Facilities Design. Washington, DC: The American Institute of Architects, 1999.
- Handbook of Facilities Planning, Vol. 1: Laboratory Facilities by T. Ruys. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1990.
- Laboratories, A Briefing and Design Guide by Walter Hain. London, UK: E & FN Spon, 1995.
- Laboratory by Earl Walls Associates May 2000.
- Laboratory Design from the Editors of R&D Magazine.
- Laboratory Design, Construction, and Renovation: Participants, Process, and Product by National Research Council, Committee on Design, Construction, and Renovation of Laboratory Facilities. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000.
- Planning Academic Research Facilities: A Guidebook by National Science Foundation. Washington, DC, 1992.
- Science and Engineering Research Facilities at Colleges and Universities by National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Studies. Arlington, VA, 1998.
- Laboratories for the 21st Century (Labs21)-Sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, Labs21 is a voluntary program dedicated to improving the environmental performance of U.S. laboratories.