Think Wood: What is Gensler’s Lab of the Future concept?
Chad Yoshinobu: The need for better-designed lab spaces and science workplaces is growing rapidly. As you can imagine, designing labs comes with lots of competing demands and challenges. And the design of many conventional labs just doesn’t cut it anymore. The Lab of the Future concept is thinking about the design of these buildings very differently. We really put ourselves in the place of the occupants and consider what they will need in a next-generation lab facility. We wanted to open up the space and make it more than just a container; we wanted to give developers a building concept that would differentiate them. Along with this, we made cutting carbon central to its design.
TW: What differentiates this concept from conventional lab designs?
CY: It started with a very simple question: what would compel a science tenant to want to come to this building? We wanted to alter the trajectory of how a science building could be designed from the inside out—and we really rethought the entire lab layout,starting with the grid. We created a grid of 33’ by 33’ because it’s based on a lab module for a science tenant. We also relocated the building core from the center to the side of the building. Putting a core in the middle of a building is like putting a fireplace in the middle of your living room. Together, the grid and the shifted core gives the client maximum flexibility.
TW: Why did you choose mass timber as the primary structure for the concept lab and what role did it play in cutting carbon?
CY: We discovered that timber is particularly suited to offsite modular construction, which would allow us to produce the project in a nearby factory and deliver it to the site as a kit of parts. This approach would be 30% faster and 10% cheaper to construct than a conventional concrete building. With 85% fewer deliveries to the site and a 75% reduction in construction waste, NEXT uses 80% less carbon to build than a conventional concrete lab building. This amounts to a savings of approximately 5200 total metric tons of CO2. The material also has an emotional appeal because it lends warmth to a building’s interior; steel and concrete must be covered with extra material to achieve the same result.
TW: What other advantages and challenges did mass timber pose for this conceptual design?
CY: Designed with an offset core, NEXT’s mass timber grid provides maximum tenant flexibility for the lab/workplace at 33 x 33 feet. By optimizing the column grid to this unique layout, the lab bench can be oriented in either an east/west or north/south planning layout.
As for challenges, vibration is a key concern for buildings of this type. In a lab setting, you need to minimize this as it can directly impact the accuracy and quality of lab results. Because mass timber can be prone to a little more vibration, we partnered with KPFF to find a solution that resolved any negative impact. We achieved a vibration of 6,000 micro inches per second (MIPS), a go-to standard for most lab buildings.
TW: Did you find out anything surprising or unexpected in your research to reinvent lab and science buildings?
CY: This is perhaps not entirely surprising, but something conventional lab buildings often don’t provide is outdoor space. Our research showed that access to the outdoors topped the wishlist of our tenants and building occupants. Traditionally, adding operable windows and outdoor balconies to labs hasn’t been considered possible since air flow direction and pressure tiers would be disrupted. But by using conference rooms or other spaces as a vestibule, it is possible to allow labs to have access to fresh air for meeting spaces and to provide space to hold meetings outdoors. Fresh air and views help make meetings more enjoyable and encourage more creative collaboration and discussion, while also potentially mitigating airborne pathogens.
TW: Unique to a science laboratory, your team focused on connection to the wider community—what design features helped you achieve this?
CY: Gensler wanted to demonstrate how a science building could be a community catalyst to benefit the local area by creating opportunities to activate public programs at the ground floor.
And by shifting the stair access to the building and making it accessible and transparent, the design sends the message that it is outward-looking to the community. The most underutilized aspect of a building now has daylight, it has views, and it creates community because it’s an inner connecting stair for the entire building.
NEXT was designed to host a multipurpose arts and entertainment venue as well as a shared incubation restaurant and shared kitchen space to celebrate the diverse culinary arts in the city. It looks beyond the perimeter of its walls to stitch together an approach that benefits its community, creating a synergy between community and building.
TW: What are the biggest lessons learned by undertaking this conceptual design process?
CY: Beginning with the tenant in mind and what they want the building to feel like as a holistic experience was critical to our approach, and, I believe, to its success. The idea is to look at the areas that our science and lab tenants really need us to advise on and how their needs are evolving with changes in their industry. Ultimately, NEXT is a platform that allows tenants and developers to reimagine what a science building can be. In addition to delivering top-of-line functionality within the lab and workspace, NEXT offers opportunities for a variety of connections—to the outdoors, the community, and to the surrounding cultural context—without sacrificing tenant flexibility. This is our call to action to shift from the past to a more resilient and inclusive future for lab buildings.