Architects, planners and scien- tists often raise the issue of “future-proofing” research
buildings, and planning for the “lab
of the future,” assuming we can look
out 20 to 50 years and understand
what will drive new ideas and
I don’t think we can.
Just look at the digital marketplace
and recent applications of Artificial
Intelligence (AI). Look at the ways our
children gather information—we are
living in a time of rapid change.
When we think of a lab today, most
of us think of a rectangular building
with modular, flexible wet and dry
laboratories zoned with more or less robust infrastructure
with offices nearby—all neatly stacked on upper floors.
Glass walls offer glimpses from corridors into labs, what
we popularly call “science on display.”
Often, the labs are arranged around a light-filled
atrium, with connecting bridges and stairs, designated
collaboration spaces (although often devoid of collab-
orators) and a spectacular and grand public ground
floor—all intended to enhance trans-disciplinary inter-
action and foster new connections.
But in the near future, I think we’ll move away
from the idea of labs as a collection of enclosed spaces
containing specific, although somewhat changeable,
functions. Instead, I think labs will be the places where
people connect with one another—to gather, retrieve,
analyze and discuss data and also engage in new
technologies. Labs will be hubs for an exchange of
knowledge, connecting experts from around the world
in both physical and virtual space, and they will be
available and accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
I believe that much of the physical experimentation
traditionally at the heart of laboratories will look very
different than it does now, perhaps even moving out of
the lab into science “garages,” remotely located from
those analyzing results.
With the advent of AI and automation, and the sheer
quantity of data already accessible, scientists will focus
on assuring the quality of the data, and figuring out
how best to use it to generate new ideas and products.
Data analysis, the ability to explore and develop new
ideas with others, and especially the applications that
result from these exchanges, is what will drive science.
Labs will become tools for this interchange and
developing new applications. They will become
idea factories and look nothing like the ones we
are designing today.
In my upcoming columns, I will explore new ways
to approach the design of labs—and how we, as lab
designers, can enhance people’s experiences as they
pursue science, use technology, and most importantly,
engage one another.
Looking Beyond the “Future-Proofed” Future
Labs will be the hubs for an exchange of knowledge.
By Brian Kowalchuk, AIA, LEED AP, Global Director of Design, HDR
Brian Kowalchuk, AIA, LEED AP, is Global Director
of Design, HDR. Throughout his career, Brian has
transformed complex programs into highly functioning
and striking facilities that advance the missions of
leading science and technology organizations. He
embraces the inherent challenges of high-performing
technically advanced buildings to develop architecture that creates
connections among people, place and technology. In recognition of
these efforts, he has received numerous AIA Awards, as well as seven
prestigious Lab of the Year Awards from Laboratory Design and
R&D Magazine. A frequent guest speaker at industry conferences,
including the Lab Design Conference, his work has been featured in a
wide range of professional journals including Architecture Magazine,
Interior Design Magazine, Contract, BioExecutive and Fast Company.
When we think of a lab today, most