Modern Lab Trends for the Present and Future

Modern Lab Trends for the Present and Future

Creating modern lab spaces that meet present and future research requirements is vitally important for the longevity of any lab space. High School, College/University, and Research and Development labs are all facing the pressure to design spaces that can keep up with all of the emerging trends. Below are some of the key drivers that are developing the new model of lab design:


Colleges/Universities and research institutions are increasingly creating “open” labs to support team based work and problem solving. Taking a collaborative approach is best complimented by environments that promote interdisciplinary teamwork rather than the previous “siloed” departmental culture. This trend is being accelerated by the younger generation and new academic models where students and researchers thrive at solving problems in team based environments. Modern science is becoming more social, and the most productive and successful researchers are familiar with the substance and the style of each other’s work. This collaborative approach fosters individual’s capacity to adopt new research methods as they become available.

Having a more traditional fixed or “closed” lab is just as important for certain kinds of research; mainly those areas that are dominated by large amounts of equipment. Some research or equipment rooms get created to allow a shared access to these devices and cutting down the cost of purchasing individual equipment for each science. Having “closed” off rooms for glass washing equipment, electron microscopes, tissue culture labs, and dark rooms are examples of equipment and activities that should be housed separately from “open” spaces.  In addition to incorporating areas for writing up lab reports and going through data in a quiet and uninterrupted environment can be important.


You can see closed-off individual work spaces that are adjacent to an open laboratory set up, and closed-off work stations separated by a glass enclosure. Project shown is Sensient Technologies in Chicago, IL see the full case study.  


Equally as important to a successful build out of a research laboratory building is the creation of community spaces (break rooms, kitchens, soft seating, etc.) that lend themselves to “keeping the client” in the building.  Design in locations to bring in food, coffee and the internet café.  This also includes courtyard areas; allowing a conference call and meeting to take place in “the fresh air”.  Buildings are being designed to stagger these community spaces at different ends of the building, assigning conference room or meeting room locations that are purposefully on a different floor.  The more interaction and moving of the researchers the more they understand the connection to their peers.


Lab owners consistently request that their lab spaces are flexible and adaptable. The main driver of adaptable lab spaces is the long-term decrease of renovation costs and lab downtime. Flexibility can mean multiple things; the ability to expand easily, accommodate re-configurations and promote a variety of uses. The growth of interdisciplinary science leaves clients designing for an owner’s current and future needs.

Utilizing overhead service carriers that supply air, vac, power and gas help promote this flexibility. This service support from the ceiling can feed utility chases and/or tables systems throughout the lab elevation. In addition, data, localized exhaust (snorkels) and recirculated water can be accommodated.

There continues to be an uptick in flexibility design in terms of fixed casework versus flexible lab tables. The cost delta of the furniture in each approach is relatively flat (flexible tables cost more than fixed casework, but the installation of the tables systems is much lower and assists with shortened construction duration).  At the end of the day what is designed into the space “above the ceiling” is what dictates the level of flexibility moving forward.  Providing trunks or locations for power and gases as future needs might require; increase the future flexibility, but also increases the initial installation costs.

Adjustable and flexible laboratory tables are a great way utilize space and meet different research requirements, in addition to overhead service carriers for your utilities. Project shown is Binghamton University in Vestal, NY check out the full case study



Research laboratories are extremely demanding when it comes to energy usage, often using five times as much energy and water of a teaching lab space. Research laboratories are energy demanding due to; large numbers of containment and exhaust devices, heat generating equipment, researchers 24 hour access to lab facilities, and fail-safe redundant backup systems and uninterrupted power supply or emergency power. Meeting and exceeding the health and safety standards for any lab is paramount to the labs success. Sustainable lab designs will not only improve safety but will also improve productivity.

Lab spaces must effectively use materials and resources, recycle and increase use of products with recycled content. Environmentally friendly and sustainable designs are awarded LEED certifications which can lead to a savings in utility and operation costs long term.

Harnessing natural light while providing the right amount of glazing on windows is another key element of cutting down on the waste of energy.  Choices of work surface colors, floor and wall treatments and the like also have fairly substantial impacts.


Science has evolved over the past century into less of an individualistic pursuit and more of a collaborative endeavor. Looking for more of a combination of “closed” and “open” spaces that promote interdisciplinary and individualized research solutions. The degree of flexibility should be assessed for each applications’ needs and requirements. Once that is understood deciding between fixed casework and flexible laboratory tables comes into play. Lastly, lab spaces must effectively use material and resources in order to promote a sustainable and energy efficient environment. Energy savings lead to a decrease in utility and operational costs, while promoting safety. Understanding these three main lab space elements will allow you to configure a space that meets the needs of the owner and the users. A successful building is the result of involving all of the stake holders. They include owners, facilities, lab users, faculty, lab managers and environmental health and safety (EHS).


Hock, L. (2014, June 6). Trends in modern lab design. Retrieved April 13, 2017, from Lab Design New website:

Scott, C. (2014, December 11). Modern laboratory design: creating a space for effective collaboration.     Retrieved April 13, 2017, from Bio Process International website:

Watch, D. (2016, August 29). Trends in lab design. Retrieved April 14, 2017, from Whole Building Design Guide website: