For the past 20-plus years, the life sciences industry has been focused on flexibility, where laboratories are planned and created with all systems and services in place, often before it is fully known what processes and technologies are needed.
While this approach anticipates a wide range of uses, it has proven unsustainable both for the investors and designers creating the labs and the life sciences companies using them.
According to post-occupancy feedback on US laboratories that Perkins&Will has designed, few facilities fully utilise all the features designed into the space.
With constrained budgets but increasing needs, we must change the dialogue to focus on adaptability rather than flexibility. This is because we can never predict, nor can anyone afford, every solution for every possible scenario that might be encountered.
When the need for new building services and utilities or accommodation of equipment arises, investors and designers should not be forced to rip out a whole bunch of infrastructure. Instead, they should have a slot where these systems can be added over time.
Approaches that maximise and optimise available space in a minimal footprint, provide adaptable infrastructure for changing needs and create aspirational workplaces – not forgetting that discovery is accelerated by highly collaborative and convergent teams – are the critical elements of future-forward research spaces.
However, the industry needs to recognise that a one-size-fits-all approach cannot be taken. Our deep understanding of science’s varied needs and aspirations has allowed us to contribute to some of the most innovative approaches to supporting discovery, allowing our clients to achieve their missions more effectively.
These will inevitably influence the design of life sciences real estate spaces, mainly when architects assess how best to meet the current and future needs of tenants.
In the post-Covid-19 era, governments will be increasingly prioritising life sciences and what facilities they need to invest in. Much of this will come down to ensuring buildings and places can be designed in adaptable and sustainable ways.
These themes will no doubt be top of everyone’s lists throughout the next decade and in the years to follow.
Steven Charlton is managing director of Perkins&Will London