Lab Manager speaks to Rebekah Gandy from Gensler on the upcoming Lab Design Conference, her career path, and her interests in travel, coffee, and sustainability. Rebekah will speak at the Lab Design Conference on creating a solid foundation with project planning. Rebekah's session is part of our special Lab Manager track, which includes sessions that relate to the relationship between lab planners and lab managers, and the communication and collaboration skills necessary to successfully complete a lab project.
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:So I actually started as an electrical engineer. At first, I was going to design the robots of the world. I went to a magnet school in high school. So I was really excited about engineering. And then I took one architectural studio and kind of romanticized the idea of design and completely fell in love, and immediately switched majors. But it's also kind of funny how I kind of started in a lab environment, did architecture, and now I'm back to the lab environment.
Q: What are some of your career highlights so far?
A: In my youth, I had the opportunity to travel a lot, which is, I think, for any young designer, really exciting that you have multiple 'aha' moments. And then, specifically for labs, you have a lot of technical challenges. So it really makes you kind of sometimes think outside the box; technically, so there's a couple of really cool, total 'nerd out' mechanical solutions that we came to for mechanical usage—things like that, I think, are pretty exciting.
Q: If you weren't in this profession, what job would you like to have instead?
A:Before going to college, I was actually going to be a nun and was really pretty serious about service. And then I decided not to, and I decided to go to university. So if I wasn't going to be doing design or lab design, I'd probably be doing something in the service industry. I like the community aspect of it.
Q: What is your favorite building, lab-related or not?
A:So this is not lab-related. Going back to opportunities of travel when I was younger, I was in New York for a minute and doing labs there. One of my favorite buildings is the Calatrava Station, a train station there in Manhattan. And it's just beautiful. I was lucky enough that they were constructing it at the time. And through women in architecture, I was able to tour it while it was under construction and talk to the main designer. And as a young architect, I was like, 'ah!' I was also lucky enough through traveling with my undergraduate, I was able to see some of Calatrava's work in Spain. And then a VE (value engineering) thing with that building, it was supposed to open up like the wings, but it got VE'd out. So now there's a skylight that opens, but it's still beautiful.
Q: What do you think is crucial for the success of lab design in the future?
A:Sustainability and energy, low energy usage—labs use a huge amount of energy. They just devour it. And as we know, the cost of energy is increasing. Fossil fuels are reducing, and we have some serious climate issues where we're having to deal with a lot of resiliency issues. So I think [we need to] lower our footprint—not just carbon footprint, but also reduce our energy usage, and then make our buildings a lot more resilient.
Q: In an elevator-style pitch, can you tell me a bit about your session at the conference?
A:It's pretty straightforward. Good project planning and communication will prevent major triage due to change management. It's not uncommon for us to have different parties come in and out during a project. With good project planning and really good communication, if another party comes in and says, “Hey, I'm doing a different type of process.” If the design is there, and it's flexible, you're really not going to have that much heartache. So it's really setting your project up for success with any future changes.
Q: What are you most looking forward to at this year's conference?
A: The location is awesome! Yes, I'm looking forward to listening in and some of the keynote speakers, but also really looking forward to some of the site visits. The location is a nexus of the United States’ research hub. I'm really looking forward to the conversations that are going to be had during the Q&A for all of our topics. Plus, it's also the first year that Lab Manager and the Lab Design [Conference] are collaborating together. So I'm really looking forward to see how that's going to come together and how it's gonna jive.
Q: If you could tell your younger self something, what would it be?
A: Everything's gonna be okay. It's all worth it; it's totally worth it. It's going to be okay. I feel maybe my younger self worried a little bit too much about everything, like whether it's making deadlines, personal stuff, and ultimately, it's going to be fine. Everything ends up working out.
Q: What's your standard order when you visit a coffee shop?
A: So this is my post-COVID standard order because I tried to get a little healthier. Architects out there are gonna laugh at me because caffeine, I think, is such a part of our culture. I actually order a decaf Americano. And a lot of trendy coffee places don't serve decaf, so you just have to roll with it.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to add or mention?
A: I think [we should] focus mostly on sustainability. I think that's really where the future is going. We have a responsibility, and the architecture alone adds so much to energy usage, especially our buildings. So if there's anything that we could do to really help reduce that ... we just need to work at it.