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Professional Profile: Robert Skolozdra

Lab Manager speaks to Robert Skolozdra, partner with Svigals + Partners in New Haven, CT

MaryBeth DiDonna

Robert Skolozdra, AIA, LEED AP, is partner with Svigals + Partners in New Haven, CT. Lab Manager recently spoke with Bob about his career, experience, and personal interests.

Professional Profile - Robert Skolozdra, AIA, LEED AP, partner with Svigals + Partners
Robert Skolozdra, AIA, LEED AP, partner with Svigals + Partners
Lab Manager

Q: How did you get started in your career? Did you major in your field in college, get an internship, switch careers mid-stream, etc.?

A: My father was a big influence. He worked in an architect’s office where he was involved in draftsmanship and I remember wandering though the office, watching him and his colleagues drawing and building models. He’d take me to the job sites and I’d see the buildings under construction, so I made the connection early between architecture and construction and how they evolved from documents and models to a completed building. My father was also involved in mechanical and electrical engineering consulting, which are very important aspects of lab design. My first visit to Svigals + Partners also left an impression on me. I liked the firm’s practice of creating creative, unexpected solutions to design problems.

Working as an architect and designing labs was a natural progression for me. We’re always searching for that balance of architecture, engineering, and art. I’ve worked with architects purely focused on beauty and art and it’s made me want to design labs where those aspects work together with the mechanics and systems required for a lab’s best functioning—fume hoods, gas and water lines, safety systems. These spaces are really for people. We want people to be comfortable in the labs and excited to come to work and collaborate on creative and innovative approaches to their research.  

Q: If you weren’t in this profession, what job would you like to have instead?

A: This is always a tough question for me. I have a lot of different hobbies. I can remember imagining myself on stage and playing songs like Neil Young. More seriously, when I was in school, I was always interested in broadcast and video, and now my daughter is doing broadcast communications work, including editing videos. It’s fascinating. One of my hobbies is photography. I started a website and thought when I retire, I’d sell my pictures. Maybe? There’s something about work that combines technical systems with different aspects of beauty that I really enjoy.

Q: What is your favorite building, lab-related or not?

A: The Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona, Spain is a favorite building of mine. In architecture school, I latched onto architect Antoni Gaudí and his style of architecture—best described as organic, exuberant, and colorful. He spent four decades working on this masterpiece, and famously it is still incomplete and under construction 150 years after breaking ground. My family and I went to Spain about five years ago and we spent a whole day at the Sagrada Familia. I took hundreds of photos. It’s the building’s symbolism. Its engineering is extraordinary, and its artistry is exceptional. I love religious architecture. I’m always inspired by the architecture; by seeing a cathedral from the engineering and artistic aspects combined in a basic way. I’m a lay preacher at my church and I find the art and religious symbolism very uplifting.   

You don’t think of art adornment or a building like the Sagrada Familia when you think of modern architecture today, but these buildings still inspire me. These buildings blend mechanical and artistic aspects in the same way we blend technical systems with design detailing, textured materials, and branding. Our lab users get excited when we talk about integrated art. We’re working now on a research space for a client who works with robots. She takes her inspiration from nature and will photograph the robotic animals she creates and document how the schools of fish or a colony of ants work together. We’re reflecting that inspiration in the lab by creating a mural of fish and birds on a wall, so the space incorporates what’s important to our client in a holistic way.

Q: What lab projects are you working on at the moment?

A: An exciting project we’re working on now is the headquarters for the biotech company, Arvinas in New Haven. It includes lab and office spaces and is roughly 160,000 sq. ft. on three floors. It’s part of a downtown revitalization project at 101 College Street and is expected to run through 2024. One of the things that makes this project stand out is our scope for the headquarters is broad. They’re getting the full benefit of everything we do, from architecture to furniture selection, art integration, and branding. It’s a great space and we’re excited about creating a beautiful, state-of-art facility for Arvinas and its important research.

Q: What is one important skill you think that all lab design experts should have?

A: One of the things we do well is listen and, from there, pull together various kinds of expertise in the field. Listening and understanding a client’s needs and vision, consultants’ perspectives, and the design team’s concepts is going to make a difference in the resulting space and how it comes together. Understanding a client’s mission connects back to all the things we talked about early on—the mix of engineering and art into a lab space to create a safe environment that’s productive and inspiring at the same time.

Lab designers need to know what they do well and have access to other experts. In-house, we have a deep bench of lab designers, design architects, interior people, graphic designers, and a director of art integration. Beyond that, we have a network of reliable consultants and having these resources centralized saves our clients’ money. It ensures that all aspects of the lab are met expertly and safely. For example, if we’re trying to solve an engineering or mechanical situation, we’ll bring in a consultant we’ve worked with who will be able to talk through ways to resolve the issue with the client, letting them know they don’t have to worry about—say, hazardous waste. When we were working on vivarium research and lab space, we brought in a vivarium specialist and a veterinarian for their expertise in creating a safe and comfortable environment for the lab’s animals.   

It goes back to creating holistic spaces for people to work productively, safely, and comfortably. Laboratories have specific needs that often rely on specialized mechanical systems. Our work is to design highly technical spaces that cultivate innovation and discovery through effective architecture, design, and collaboration. Regularly meeting and planning with clients and members of the job team ensures the best possible outcomes.