The year 2020 has challenged industries across the board, and many fields are suffering as a result of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. One industry that has seen substantial growth this year, however, is the biotech industry, which requires optimized laboratory spaces and workplaces to accommodate new research and technological innovations. Architecture and design firm Svigals + Partners, based in New Haven, Connecticut, has developed a series of Biotech Visioning Workshops to assist their biotech and real estate clients seeking to fulfill key infrastructure demands. The workshops assist end-users, realtors, and brokers as they evaluate potential facility sites, develop new laboratories, and renovate existing spaces.
“With the biotech industry currently experiencing a boom in Connecticut, businesses at every stage of growth and maturity are competing here for the resources to expand and level up. As the state’s leader in lab design, we want to help these companies make smart decisions about their infrastructure,” says Robert Skolozdra, AIA, LEED AP, partner with Svigals + Partners. “Their success is not only good for the state’s economy but also for the future of critically important areas of research science. These workshops help craft a consensus-driven vision of each company’s hoped-for future, by simply asking the right questions.”
The workshops cover topics such as strategic goals and aspirations; phased growth and expansion planning; adaptability, modularity, and flexibility; project constraints and budget parameters; and scheduling implications. The program also offers insight into space allocation concepts and options, along with a comprehensive facility list with diagrams, and technical criteria of each space type including preliminary area projections and cost data.
“By evaluating current and projected growth, we can help companies quantify their space needs. This industry is characterized by high risk and quick growth, which means our essential task is identifying critical inflection points in the program needs, as well as the potential for efficiencies and synergy that emerge when designing to optimize access to shared resources and provide flexibility for growth or consolidation,” says Skolozdra.
The team utilizes workshops and interviews to determine the functional needs of each department, how they interact with each other, and what kind of space may be required for both the current day as well as the future. Fun activities and workshop tools are employed in order to encourage active listening and empathy. The team also looks at the research process holistically, says Skolozdra, “going beyond lab space to understand the needs related to office and support space, conference rooms, manufacturing, distribution, branded elements, and amenities—whatever is needed. The process is fully customized to each individual client. Because we consider the security and privacy of our clients to be paramount, we do not share anecdotes from workshop to workshop. Rather, what tends to happen is clients uncover their own stories because the process reveals hidden dynamics that turn out to be essential to understanding the company culture and process,” he says.
Like most companies, Svigals + Partners has had to deal with the challenge of accommodating its clients and employees while dealing with social distancing guidelines and working remotely. “We typically work directly with a leadership team or steering committee to identify which personnel are best to interview in order to gather specific programming data. These interviews can be conducted in person or remotely,” says Skolozdra. He adds, “We also suggest for each representative discipline the formation of focus groups that include both senior department personnel and technical staff. Virtual platforms have worked remarkably well, so remote meetings have changed our process very little. Many of the companies we work with have decentralized senior leadership, so our workshop meetings included occasional virtual attendees well before COVID. We are also able to capture information live in these meetings, providing the possibility of immediate feedback and making the back-and-forth of meeting minutes less time-consuming.”
Svigals + Partners has also partnered with BioCT to develop a series of panel discussions aimed at guiding start-ups and early-stage businesses as they develop a foundation for expansion, says Skolozdra, and these modules are expected to launch in early 2021. “The partnership with BioCT will allow us to share a deep well of knowledge drawn from various industry disciplines,” he says.
The workshops, says Skolozdra, play a role in developing what people may think the “lab of the future” will be like. “These workshops have become an important part of our own process. As leaders in design for research space, it’s important that we stay abreast not only of the needs of individual clients but also understand where the industry is headed. From the workshops we are able to discern a great deal about trends in organizational structure, technology, recruitment and retention of talented researchers, and much more.”
MaryBeth DiDonna is lab design editor of Lab Manager. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.