Director of Life Sciences Becky Boyer Shares Her Top Lab Trends

In January of 2020, OTJ Architects expanded its practice with the opening of our Boston, MA studio focused on life sciences. Becky Boyer, IIDA, NCIDQ serves as the Boston studio’s Director of Life Sciences. Becky’s acute understanding of the built environment requirements of leading life science organizations is honed through the design and delivery of workplaces and research facilities like Platelet BioGenesis, Glympse Bio, Genzyme, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, and Bristol Myers Squibb.

In celebration of World Laboratory Day, we sat down with Becky to learn about some of the design trends we have seen and implemented for our clients.

OTJ: What big change do you see in the organization of space in life science offices?

Becky: We are seeing a lot of effort to connect office and lab spaces.  By connecting these spaces, there is an opportunity for visibility between the lab and office. This visibility can encourage and foster collaboration between teams, which may lead to more engagement.  In addition, a visual connection ensures the lab no longer feels closed off and is more easily accessed.

OTJ: Technology is a big driver in our modern economy. How is technology changing lab spaces?

Becky: The use of automation and intelligent space are creating what we refer to in the industry as ‘Smart Labs.’  Smart Labs allow an organization to be highly adaptable when responding to research or even current events. We have seen automated building systems and cloud-based data storage increase communication between teams. These new systems also provide access to equipment and data outside of the lab. By simplifying workflow and lab safety through automation, the synthesis of many functions into one piece of equipment has been a critical driver for change. These streamlined automated tools allow for higher output, increased precision, and a reduced footprint.

OTJ: Are there other programming elements that are important to life science companies?

Becky: We are seeing more and more companies want to incorporate wellness initiatives and amenities in the design of their spaces. In a competitive recruitment market, these spaces are important for attracting and retaining talent. We have also seen an increased effort by life science companies to promote a healthy work life balance and lifestyles for their employees. Wellness design practices we have included in our recent projects include direct access to natural light, exterior views, as well as furniture and fixture elements that make early and late hours in the lab more comfortable.

OTJ: What do you think is a critical driver for these new trends in lab spaces?

Becky: In our experience, the goal of these trends is to encourage team interaction. Flexible lab spaces allow different teams to work together in the same lab space. These interdisciplinary research units may drive more innovation and efficiency. In order to encourage team interaction, we have been installing flexible casework and engineering systems, utility ceiling panels that allow for easily moved equipment in a “plug-and-play” manner, and clear circulation paths which allow different teams to work alongside one another without getting in each other’s way.

OTJ: As we look to the future, what is one area that you would like this industry to focus more on?

Becky: Creating sustainability in lab spaces has never been more critical.  Labs have high single use plastic consumption, require large amounts of energy, and are dependent on chemical use. There is an opportunity for us to rethink lab processes as related to these unsustainable practices. Sustainable efforts that we have been looking to include in our workplace strategies are sterilizing and reusing lab tools instead of throwing away one-use tools, sharing consumption of chemicals, and introducing energy saving equipment.

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