ARC / Connect

Creating Collaboration

04.24.11 / Banker & TRADESMAN / by JIM CRONIN

Architectural Resources Cambridge has created some of the most notable research and manufacturing facilities in the region, including the Genzyme biopharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Allston; the Tufts University expansion in Chinatown; and the 739,288-squarefoot New Research Building at Harvard Medical School.

Jeffreys Johnson and Thomas Loring, principals, have been on the front lines of developing new architectural and design methods to accommodate some of the most advanced life science research in the country, especially facilitating collaboration between scientists of different backgrounds.

Q: How do you get scientists in collaborative spaces to bump into each other and share ideas?

A: Johnson: There are many ways to do it. But the primary goal is to get the researchers in proximity to one another to see each other as often as possible in informal settings, because … when they see each other, they tend to then socially interact, and that leads to scientific interaction because they’re all focused on the same thing. So the design of Genzyme’s Science Center forces every scientist to move through the central atrium. It’s all glass and has all different amenities in it and really fosters that type of thing.

Loring: What we’ve tried to do in most all of our science projects … is to come up with different ways of bringing people together. One version is what we’ve dubbed as a ‘sky lobby.’ There’s a spiral staircase leading to a gathering space near conference rooms on the second floor where there is also a kitchenette, providing the types of functions that people want to gravitate to informally as well as formally, with the conference room that brings people together to interact and is located at the end of … an active corridor system and circulation area. You have two levels of people potentially from different departments that are going to interact with each other. Another is the [Harvard Medical School’s] Reich McCarroll Laboratory. We re-did that lab from the original design. Those are younger researchers that wanted the type of interactive space right in their labs.

Johnson: There they have a glass wall that separates the wet [experiments] lab from the dry [computer] lab with a couch and reading area to have a cup of coffee that allows them to have food, because they’re not allowed to have food in the wet labs. But it opens it up visually so it almost makes it seem like they’re the same space.

Loring: The idea of these two researchers is to be in the same space. They share one office. They don’t have individual offices because they want to be talking to each other in open areas … to bring ideas together with each other. This open, collaborative space fosters all kinds of activity.

Q: How have labs evolved over the years that you have been designing high-end laboratories?

A: Johnson: Labs are evolving from large, wet bench areas to more procedure rooms supporting the benches and more dry research, and more integrations of wet and dry research, and more integration of disciplines. For instance, we did the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, which was the first new department in a very long time, and that integrates many different disciplines into the study of biology. That tends to be one of the trends in education. Also, the younger scientists tend to be more computer-oriented and want more dry lab space, which is more computational space. They do most of their studies in computational form and transfer that into the wet lab to confirm what their theoretical studies have indicated.

Q: Architecturally speaking, what have been the most notable challenges to keep up with as this evolution has occurred?

A: Johnson: Research labs have to be able to change quickly, and have to be designed with change in mind. Some clients think the average life of a lab is about five years before it needs to be changed because the research thrust has changed. Researchers are constantly changing the ways they do research. They are designed to be easily and cost-effectively updated as needed.

Q: Can you design a lab so it’s effective 10 years out?

A: Loring: Absolutely. We have a number of labs that have been designed that way. They’re large, open labs that provide the most flexibility … and are capable of being subdivided. And the way the lab is fit-up is important, the systems, whether it’s the utility systems or the architectural bench-work systems that can be readily changed over time.


1. Integration of artwork throughout the labs, including a four-story mobile in an atrium.
2. Include a Zen garden and a separate landscaped courtyard with waterfall.
3. Design it like a submarine.
4. Create a frog spa, or an amphibian breeding colony for harvesting eggs for cell research, because happy frogs lay more eggs.
5. Include a disco ball in the wet lab area.

Reprinted with permission of Banker & Tradesman.



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