Research-based Workspace – Design Shifts in Academic and Corporate Labs


December 6, 2023

Subject Matter Expert

Edwin Hargrave, AIA, Associate Principal
Edwin’s open-mindedness, persistence and commitment to innovation, and curiosity in research-based facility planning and programming, earned him numerous awards for his work at the Woods Hole Institution, including Lab of the Year High Honors Award from R&D Magazine, the AIA New England Merit Award for Design Excellence, and the BSA/SCUP Award for Design Excellence for Higher Education Facilities.

For over 25 years, a large portion of Associate Principal Edwin Hargrave’s design projects have been comprised of science-focused research facilities for academic institutions. For the last 5 years at TRIA, he has been planning and programming for some of the world’s largest biopharmaceutical corporations. We were curious about how different, or similar, these two different markets are when it comes to planning and programming.

We sat down for a Q&A with Edwin, who has designed over 1 million square feet of research space.  As the son of a marine chemist, you could say he was born into the culture of scientific research.  From an early age, Edwin witnessed his dad’s laborious field work, long hours in the lab, and the passion for discovery and implementation of successful outcomes to improve lives in the community.

Through interactions with his father at the workplace, Edwin also witnessed the key design components for a productive research environment: flexible labs, a nearby comfortable area to compare notes with colleagues over a cup of coffee, and relief from long sample runs by way of a sturdy ping pong table. He says, “That recipe continues to be every bit as relevant when planning for scientific research today.”

How has the physical arrangement of research labs evolved?

Edwin:  In the past, early academic science buildings featured lifeless double-loaded corridors flanked by cloistered research labs tailor-made for a single Principal Investigator’s (PI) focus–fiefdoms as they were often described. These have been replaced by the shared open lab arrangement which commercial life sciences facilities have long understood to be more productive by offering adaptability in bench and equipment layouts.

In the academic setting, the shared open lab translates to supporting a wider range of PI investigations within a single communal environment, housing a larger array of scientific equipment, supporting more complex workflows, and serving multiple research programs that are likely interrelated.  The sum of these factors is that students are better prepared to enter the workforce comfortably and productively upon graduation.

They’ve been introduced to the concept of working in teams, they have a facility with a wider range of equipment and workflows, and they have the basis for understanding that most commercial research activities they’ll be involved in are cogs in a bigger research wheel.

How has the approach to collaboration and interaction evolved?

Edwin:  Earlier academic science facilities suffered from a lack of interaction and collaboration spaces, often with offices and meeting areas a far distance from the active laboratories, if not in a separate building altogether.  Grad student write-up areas were often built into the labs, which has a host of safety implications as well as making them less accessible to students seeking mentoring. These physical conditions overall could lead to a siloed learning environment, compromising the exchange of skills and ideas that could have led to increased learning, confidence building, and strengthening the institution’s program and recruiting capabilities.

Commercial research activities demand constant interaction and collaboration between research staff to meet schedules and objectives and require labs and workplace areas to essentially function as a single research community.  In response to this need, lab workers’ personal stations are usually located immediately adjacent to the lab spaces, outside of the classified lab space, but connected with glass walls providing views into the lab spaces.  Informal collaboration and meeting areas are interspersed among the workstations, with food and beverage stations nearby.  Exchanges occur frequently and with less formality, hastening the pace of the research.

This same arrangement has been adopted in the academic research setting:  Departmental Centers, PI Offices, and grad student write-up areas are located adjacent to the research labs but in unclassified lab space.  This promotes interaction and exchange, in this case, to support learning, once again better preparing students for the fast-paced and intensive dynamics of the workplace. 

Is designing for academic researchers and commercial organizations the same?

Edwin:  Today, the fundamental space models that promote learning and research breakthroughs are very similar.  The key planning components are flexible open laboratory environments, team-based problem-solving research initiatives, and strategically located office, collaboration, and interaction spaces.  Utilizing planning and design solutions that apply this understanding is accelerating breakthroughs in medicines and therapies, in no small part due to better-prepared entry-level workers

Lab Design With Scientists in Mind


May 15, 2023

“Because I can understand what the end users are explaining about the day-to-day activities, I know where the pain points are, what works for them, and what they are looking for without repetitively asking. I can pick up functional deficiencies in a current lab that could pose challenges.” Said Senior Lab Planner, Chris Graul

TRIA, a principal-led architecture firm with a focus on designing unique spaces for science, technology and corporate clients, recently completed the design of Abata Therapeutics’ new 24,000-square-foot lab and office located in a new building in Watertown, MA.

The finished space gives Abata’s scientists a functional, flexible place that supports productive work, collaboration and focus. Reflective of its name, which means “tranquil” in one language and “it’s a quiet place” in another, Abata’s lab is graced with floor-to-ceiling windows, so scientists, who are discovering new therapies, can peer out to a tranquil park, with trees and the Charles River.

For this company’s lab manager, the process of getting there, designed during the tumultuous pandemic, was surprisingly smooth and peaceful. Choosing a firm that has dedicated scientists on staff proved to be a good strategy. A lab planner’s primary goal is to ensure efficient workflows that serve the end user. Acting as a communicative, collaborative partner who can provide trusted expertise, and understand and share the values, TRIA’s lab planner was able to nurture the company’s culture of innovation.

Creating a new lab in a new space while also overseeing day-to-day business operations, Abata’s lab manager wanted a firm that could provide a high level of confidence. TRIA’s Senior Lab Planner Chris Graul, a former scientist with 20-plus years in the lab, has a unique perspective developed from years of sitting behind the bench and knows that examining the form and function of their new space would lead to improved execution.

Looking through the lens of a scientist, Chris’s first task is to understand the unique workflow, which is key to the functionality and efficiency of the lab. He often asks, what angles are conducive for moving experimental components throughout the day? Does the path of travel make sense? He makes considerations that are often overlooked, for example, storage, logistics, and where to place biological waste barrels.

Scientists’ experience with space organization and practical features cannot be overlooked. Chris explains it as “living in a lab, you have to constantly adapt to changing personnel, specific work that you are doing, and equipment that might be new or changing – often making the most out of the space that you have.” This is why TRIA provides spaces that can be adaptable. There’s a good idea of how the space would be used, but no one can predict the nuances of how individuals and teams work and interact if the science is changing. Knowing what’s available and having good partnerships with vendors also allow design elements to be scalable to accommodate growth.

After serving as an Associate Director of Lab Operations for over a decade, Chris recognizes that group parity is also important. When Abata’s facility manager realized the list of wants and needs exceeded space and budgets, Chris was able to help make concessions without changing the functionality and efficiency of the lab.

TRIA is confident that Abata’s new space will help them to achieve their long-term goals.

About TRIA
TRIA is a full-service architecture firm that values client relationships above all. The firm’s principal-driven approach puts our leadership team at the table with client decision-makers, working together to envision success, solve problems and deliver exceptional results. Our lab design and corporate interiors teams strive to learn every client’s unique DNA, and by doing so, we create efficient and energizing spaces that reflect a company’s culture and foster innovation. At TRIA, we design spaces that enable business success and advance discoveries – in the lab, around the office, and beyond.

Solutions to help Speed-to-Market Drug Researchers


February 16, 2022


Edwin Hargrave

Staff Bio

Edwin Hargrave

Lab renderings of speculative suites,
located at Berkeley Investments, 200 Exchange, Malden, MA.

Science and Technology Planner lends expert design considerations for a new market of Spec Research Suites

The race to develop new drugs has developers—and TRIA—offering innovative solutions when state of the art lab space is hard to find.

When Berkeley Investments did a comprehensive redevelopment of 200 Exchange in Malden, they collaborated with TRIA to help develop speculative lab suites (spec suites), attracting tenants in the market who need to act quickly, and are looking for more of a “move-in-ready” option. Spec suites provide the unique ability to house their offices, R&D/lab & GMPc facilities under one roof with little or minimal customization.

What makes them unique?

Associate Principal Edwin Hargrave, AIA, Director of Integrated Design, Science and Technology, shares his expertise.

With a traditional planning project we work with end users to design customized or bespoke labs that are often highly specialized.  With Spec Suites, the design process creates an opportunity with Life Sciences property developers to understand their goals and parameters for the project. We then relying upon our vast experience in the Boston marketplace to identify best design solutions for the geographic location and the target market.

When working with developers to create these “move-in ready” spec suites, we also consult our comprehensive database of programming and planning metrics to provide the most appropriate spaces and lab services for the widest possible range of potential tenants. This approach results in a nearly turn-key lab space that is ready for tenants who are making the jump from incubator space or spinning off new strategic research initiatives. Having a near turn-key lab allows tenants to continue to research activities or in the case of start-ups begin them immediately without interruptions to their operations or timelines.

Spec Suites offer their own challenges in design, mainly because they have smaller footprints to reduce rents and thus have less square footage. Flexibility and efficiency are key, and we recommend utilizing a 10’ to 11’ planning module for all lab spaces, and the use of moveable laboratory benching.

Here are several key considerations:

  • When fitting out the suites, we recommend furnishing the major pieces of laboratory equipment for the most commonly used spaces but deferring others to tenants. For example, install one or more fume hoods in the open lab, and two to four biosafety cabinets in the tissue culture (TC) room along with adequate floor space for stacking incubators. Plan another lab support room with similar dimensions to serve as a second TC room should a tenant desire it, but don’t furnish the BSC’s. Further, consider sizing another lab support room to serve as a glasswash/autoclave room, along with the necessary MEP infrastructure, but leave the purchase of the specialized equipment to the tenant.
  • Materials management spaces (consumables, freezer farms, chemistry and bio waste) should be located near a secondary entrance directly into the laboratory suite, preferably with direct access to a freight elevator.
  • The basic complement of distributed laboratory utilities—normal and emergency power, data, vacuum and compressed air—should be centrally distributed to all lab spaces using an overhead service panel system to eliminate fixed wall mounted devices that limit flexibility.
  • Laboratory HVAC systems should be designed with 100% outside air (non-recirculating) to ensure compatibility with the safety protocols for life sciences research. The exhaust system should have capacity for additional point of use exhausts (snorkels, benchtop workstations) in the lab areas, beyond the provided fume hoods.

Being experts in lab design and having proven experience designing every lab element allows TRIA to work seamlessly with developers to design highly functional and attractive spec suites, increasing available lab space in the market and allowing tenants to move in quicker, without interruptions to their ongoing research and development.

“In today’s heated market for lab space, speed to occupancy is critically important to drug researchers, who are often in a race to advance their research and can’t afford the disruptions of a drawn out space search or a lengthy construction project,” said Dan McGrath, Senior Vice President and Director of Asset Management for Berkeley. “Constructing spec suites provides tenants with move-in-ready space, but developers need to make sure the space they are delivering meets the needs of today’s lab tenants. At 200 Exchange Street, we counted on the expertise of lab planners and designers at TRIA to ensure our spec suites were flexible, functional, and met the needs of the lab users in the market.”

Mixed Outlook, Encouraging Trends for Lab Design and Construction


June 8, 2021


Jerry Guerra - Principal of The JAGG Group

This article initially appeared in Lab Manager on June 7, 2021.

The outlook is mixed for lab design and construction opportunities, according to a quarterly index that tracks proposal activity across various construction markets. Performance data for medical laboratories and pharmaceutical production facilities suggest substantial medium-term and long-term growth, while professionals working in education-based laboratories report weaker than average activity.

Every quarter since 2003, PSMJ—a publisher, education provider, and advisor on architecture and engineering business management—has measured the health of the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry by collecting proposal activity data from firm leaders. In addition to 12 major markets served by their US- and Canada-based AEC clients, PSMJ tracks the fortunes of 58 submarkets, including some that are completely or partly composed of laboratory facilities.

Among submarkets, the medical laboratory sector has shown consistent strength for several years. Its net plus/minus index (NPMI)—which measures the difference between the percentage of respondents seeing growth in the market and those seeing a decline—was in the middle of the pack for the first quarter of 2021. However, that was off a fourth quarter in which it reported the sixth-highest NPMI of all submarkets.

In contrast, results for education labs have been historically erratic. This includes a stretch of five consecutive quarters, beginning prior to the onset of the pandemic, in which more respondents said that proposal activity was slowing than growing. Education labs broke the streak in the first quarter of 2021, recording an NPMI of 13 percent. However, this was still in the bottom third of all submarkets in a quarter that saw 54 of the submarkets improve on their prior quarter result.

“We tend to see larger swings in lab-related submarkets,” says Greg Hart, a PSMJ consultant and manager of the Quarterly Market Forecast (QMF) survey. “Labs seem to respond more quickly than other submarkets to market conditions, which we believe accounts for much of that volatility. We saw this during the pandemic as medical labs and pharmaceutical projects remained relatively active, while education-based labs struggled.”

Hart adds that all laboratory-related markets will likely see a bounce if President Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan passes. It includes $220-billion for public and private lab-related projects, including $30 billion in research and development aimed at spurring jobs in rural areas and $40 billion to upgrade physical infrastructure of research labs in federal and university settings, according to Roll Call.

The pharmaceutical production submarket, which is composed partly of laboratory work, recorded an NPMI in the top quartile for the first quarter. This marked an impressive recovery from late 2019 when it was among the worst-performing submarkets in the survey. While 62 percent of the respondents that work on pharmaceutical production projects reported growth in the January to March 2021 period, only five percent saw a decline (resulting in its best-ever NPMI of 57 percent).

Labs supplant commercial developments

The PSMJ data indicates that privately funded lab facilities are currently outperforming those that rely on public funds. It also supports a trend seen in some of the leading geographic markets for life sciences development, such as Boston and San Francisco, in which projects originally slated for commercial or residential purposes are being reconfigured into science-based facilities.

David Giangrande, a professional engineer and the manager of Massachusetts operations for Connecticut-based GM2, Inc., says that he has had multiple commercial projects altered midstream in this way. “Projects we were designing a year or so ago for office space or mixed-use retail/residential are now going to be life sciences buildings with lab facilities,” says Giangrande, whose Somerville, Massachusetts-based firm, Design Consultants, Inc. merged with Glastonbury-based GM2 in December 2020. “These are all privately funded projects, and we’re seeing a mixture of lab space, office space, and even manufacturing.”

The lab market boom in greater Boston is the catalyst behind the rapid rise of TRIA, a Boston-based architecture and interior design firm that has grown to 50 people in just six years. Co-founder and principal Jeannie Thacker says that her firm experienced some delayed projects during the pandemic, but remained busy throughout. As the world returns to normalcy, she anticipates a bump in lab development activity in the coming months.

“As we get to the other side of the pandemic, we’re seeing more of our biotech clients getting back to a sense of normalcy, and we’re helping them define what that is going to be,” says Thacker, who held research positions with Harvard Medical School and Takeda Pharmaceuticals before becoming an architect. “They had plans and made investments prior to the pandemic, and they’re starting to ramp back up on the projects they put on hold.”

Thacker notes that more lab-based projects are being combined with the manufacturing function, resulting in different needs for utilities, transportation, and logistics, and other support systems that normally would not be necessary for a lab facility. This ties in with the trend of repurposing commercial buildings, as their size and location facilitate the ability to perform both roles at the same site.

This may also help explain another trend that Giangrande is seeing—laboratory facilities located in the heart of vibrant commercial and retail areas. “They’re not sticking these facilities on large lots in a suburban area or industrial park,” he says. “Lab space can be anywhere. The buildings we’re working on are prominently positioned in central urban locations.”

While the thriving life sciences and lab business has driven her firm’s success, Thacker worries that the recent heightened public interest has tempted many new vendor entrants to the industry. “There’s so much technical expertise required to execute these project types and this surge is stressing an already limited pool of talent,” she says. “Labs are our life blood; it’s what we do and have always done, and we are in it for the long haul. I’m hoping that the pandemic has helped to emphasize just how amazing this industry is, and that we will get an influx of people who are just as excited as we are about the small part we play in getting drugs to patients and advancing scientific discovery.”

Education research is huge with potential to grow

All research needs to be considered in context, so it is important to note that the PSMJ data tracks trends in markets and submarkets without regard to their relative size. The QMF is designed to give a longer-term view than most research because it focuses on one of the earliest measurable data points, proposal activity.

Despite the tepid pace of growth for education labs over time, the market is huge. According to a National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) report published by the National Science Board (NSB) in 2020, academic institutions historically perform about 10 to 15 percent of total US R&D, including about half of all U.S. basic research.

“In inflation-adjusted dollars, total academic research and development (R&D) has grown every year since 1975,” the report states. “Academic institutions in the United States performed $79.4 billion in R&D in 2018, and they have long been responsible for performing about half of all US basic research. Nearly two of every three academic R&D dollars supports basic research, whereas both applied research and development receive smaller but growing shares.”

Kevin Hinrichs, president of California-based architecture, interior design, and design strategy firm Taylor Design, says that the market for education labs is in funding limbo as it waits for the smoke to clear from the pandemic. “Uncertainty is the enemy,” says Hinrichs, whose firm’s lab portfolio spans the healthcare, higher education, and government research markets. “States are starting to set their fiscal year 2022 budgets, and their level of higher education funding may largely depend on how well they weathered the pandemic. Federal funding seems likely to increase under the new administration, but It is still in a transition phase, which adds more to the uncertainty.”

The NCSES study (“Academic Research and Development” by Josh Trapani and Michael Gibbons) notes that the federal government is the largest financial supporter of academic R&D, providing more than half of total funds in 2018 (the last year with reliable statistics). After several years of declining levels, federal funding for academic R&D increased by five percent from 2015 through 2018, in inflation-adjusted dollars. Institutional support has increased more rapidly and represents an increasingly larger share of total academic R&D. In 2018, institutional funds constituted more than one-quarter of university R&D, up from less than one-fifth in 2010.

According to NCSES, academic institutions added more than 38 million net assignable square feet (NASF) of science and engineering (S&E) research space between 2007 and 2019, reaching a total of 227.3 million NASF at research-performing universities and colleges in fiscal year 2019. Research space in the biological and biomedical sciences accounted for about 40 percent of this growth.

Growth factors in place

Even prior to the deadly pandemic that shut down much of the world in 2020, the outlook was highly optimistic for growth in lab design and construction opportunities. As the population ages, average life spans increase, and scientific breakthroughs inspire the need for further research and development activities, lab submarkets across all sectors seem primed for a boom.

As noted above, the pharmaceutical production’s first quarter NPMI achieved its highest level since PSMJ added submarkets to its survey in 2006. Medical laboratories hit its second-highest point in the fourth quarter of 2020 with an NPMI of 54 percent, topped only by a 56 percent recorded in the fourth quarter of 2006.

For the education lab market, in particular, results from the second quarter of 2021 will be telling. It has been among the weakest submarkets for nearly three years, and the first quarter has historically been its best by a wide margin. Will it revert to form and backslide in the second quarter, or will increased government investment, a strong economy, and favorable demographic and societal factors drive a resurgence? PSMJ releases its second quarter QMF survey results in mid-July.

Lending Clarity in a Confused Workplace Era


April 21, 2021


Steve Adams - Banker & Tradesman Staff

This article initially appeared in Banker & Tradesman on April 18, 2021.

With her specialty in interior design, TRIA’s Marilyn Shen says she spends the vast majority of her time anticipating people’s needs and likes. That emphasis has taken on a paramount role in her new position as the Boston-based firm’s director of integrated workplace design, as companies ponder how to configure their post-pandemic real estate. Architecture was a change of career for Shen, who started out in consulting and, like many professionals of her age group, enrolled in graduate school following the dotcom meltdown. Shen joined TRIA in March following 15 years at Visnick & Caulfield.

Q: How are clients approaching their future workplace strategies as the pandemic appears to recede?

A: I think a lot of clients are confused. Nobody knows what to do, so there are no steps to figure out because nobody knows what’s happening next. Now we’re opening a new stage where people are starting to think about it. More people are getting vaccinated and people are trying to think about how we bring people back and more importantly, do people want to get back? They are going into a cultural assessment of what does a hybrid model look like, and what does that mean to the space? A lot of clients are asking if we can assess, in surveys, why people would want to come back to work and how to make people feel comfortable. Where most places are hoping to land is something like a hybrid model where we don’t design the space for the whole population. Even pre-pandemic, a lot of companies were trying to get to that. They just couldn’t get over the hump of the remote worker. Pre-pandemic, nobody had an assigned desk. Because of COVID, desk sharing is more of a concern. People now want their dedicated space.

Q: Is bench seating gone for good?

A: I don’t know if it’s no longer in the picture, but I do think more barriers and the 6-foot distancing model will stick around. People will feel most comfortable if they’re spread apart.

Q: What sort of questions do you ask in the employee surveys?

A: The first thing to understand is why people would come back to the office, and what is the type of work that requires you to come back to the office, and to design a reason for people to want to come back. It’s around teaming, collaboration, mentoring and what you’re missing being at home. The survey also addresses what tasks you feel are more productively done at home. Other clients question the culture and social aspect of work, and how that impacts their relationships with coworkers and creativity and innovation. That’s a big topic.

Q: Do the responses vary significantly by industry?

A: From my own personal observation, I feel everybody is equally confused. But I think it’s less industry based, but more generation-based. I look at TRIA: Our offices stayed open because we were deemed essential, and it’s interesting to find most of our junior staff don’t come in as much because they’re much more comfortable doing things remotely and they grew up with the virtual meeting as “normal.” For us who are used to seeing people in person, it’s different and you see more of the older generation at work.

Q: What programming tools do you use to help clients make these decisions?

A: Our programming process is quantitative and qualitative. The quantitative is how big and how many? We set up a spreadsheet, put the square-footage and people in and how much space you need. With COVID, circulation needs to be increased. The other, which is more qualitative, is visioning sessions and interviews with clients to understand their culture and what they want to accomplish. The space is where our clients create a culture for their employees and their clients, so it’s asking questions about what they want and need in the space.

Q: How can architects use design to advance diversity, equity and inclusion?

A: I’m a firm believer in universal design as a concept. A lot of people think only in terms of accessibility. That’s one thing. You want to design a space that makes every person feel comfortable. We should be celebrating ramps instead of making it an additional thing in case somebody needs it. You’re not just doing that for the person in the wheelchair. You’re doing it for the employee who goes skiing and breaks a leg. It isn’t just about the disability. You’ve got to include everyone, whether they’re tall or short. I’m 5–1, so some spaces are hard to navigate and read something at a typical height.

It’s also to celebrate cultural diversity and pay attention to the psychology of certain colors. Some colors mean things that make people uncomfortable. My mom always tells me in Asian culture, red is a very lucky color. If you look at the stock market in Asia, red is positive and green is negative. It’s creating these things that everybody enjoys and celebrating diversity. As a woman and mother, we talk about wellness rooms that double as a sick room. As a working mother, I do not want to pump my milk in a room that somebody just got sick in. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s simple stuff.

Q: As an Asian woman, have you encountered biased attitudes or treatment in your professional life?

A: I definitely have in my career experienced stereotyping but I can tell you whether it’s because I’m a woman or an Asian. The fortunate thing is we live in a community where diversity is celebrated. I feel my Asian identity has less of an influence than being a woman, but it’s hard for me to decipher because I’m both all the time. It’s getting better, but a lot of clients, when I’m having a meeting with the C-suite, often I’m the only woman in a room of older white men. There is always this stereotype because I look younger: Does she know what she’s doing? Fortunately, it hasn’t been to the point where it’s been crippling or I can’t handle it.

Q: How has your own work routine changed over the past year, and how do you rate your own productivity compared to pre-pandemic?

A: I come in more often because I’m new to TRIA, so for me to meet people and establish my presence and understand the culture, I need to be physically here. I have been coming in three days, and the last two weeks four days, on average. I think people are productive. When doing head down work, checking emails, it’s much easier at home in some ways because there’s no distractions. The benefit to the office is doing collaborative work, especially creative work.

Shen’s Five Favorite Children’s Books:
1. “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
2. “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein
3. “Saturday” by Oge Mora
4. “Guess How Much I Love You” by Sam McBratney
5. “Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson

COVID-19 Fueling Office to Lab Conversions


October 27, 2020


Edwin Hargrave

Staff Bio

Edwin Hargrave, AIA is Director of Integrated Design, Science and Technology & Associate Principal at TRIA.

This article initially appeared in High Profile on October 27, 2020.

Imagine being in the throes of designing a gleaming new office building and a global pandemic forces people out of offices and into their homes. It sounds like it could be a scene out of a sci-fi movie but it’s the situation many developers find themselves in as companies scale back on space.

Office projects in design today run the risk of sitting vacant for years. It’s no surprise that in the home of one of the largest life sciences clusters in the country, developers are choosing to convert some or all planned commercial buildings into lab space.

Clients are asking us to reconfigure office projects midstream in the planning process to capture the demand for lab space. The decision to convert depends on several factors including the location of the property relative to existing life science hubs, size of the floor plates, the spacing of the column bays, and the location of air handling units and related central mechanical systems.

Developers contemplating refocusing the design of office projects should first huddle with a team, including architects, to determine what is possible. Here is what the design team will need to consider before making any recommendations.

Base Building Considerations

  • Examine the core of the building to determine what modifications are necessary to incorporate adequate shafts and understand the impact on the rentable area.
  • Evaluate the roofscape’s potential for large air handling equipment necessary to ventilate the laboratory spaces. The preference would be to create a centralized air system on the roof, as opposed to on-floor systems serving a single tenant.
  • Consider placing building-wide lab support spaces (e.g., mechanical rooms for shared lab services) in less desirable space such as a basement or remote areas of the ground floor. Having activated space such as shared amenities or food and beverage on the ground floor is highly desirable to attracting the best and brightest life sciences workforce.
  • Review ground floors to determine if there is enough loading dock access to handle deliveries for lab-oriented tenants without conflicting with other tenants.

The best time to consider converting an office project to lab is when the building is still on paper, not when cranes are in the air, or worse, when the lights are on.

Tenant Floor Considerations

  • Floor-to-floor height: 14’-6” generally accommodates most biology and chemistry laboratory programs.
  • Column bay spacing: 33’ is becoming the norm, providing 11’ bays which accommodate emerging oversized automated equipment and large tissue culture labs, while providing adequate aisles.
  • Size of the floor plate: 30,000 – 60,000 useable square feet (USF) will accommodate single or multiple tenants.
  • Possibility of linking floors for larger tenants: Consider an interconnecting open stair as an active hub to create a sense of community across two or more floors.

Final Steps to Ensure Success

  • Confirm with the landlord that capital investments in conversion will meet long-term financial models for the property.
  • Determine if the entire property warrants conversion.  Chemical Storage Regulations favor situating tenants with labs on floors six or below.  In substantially taller buildings, consider a partial mechanical floor mid-building to serve the lab floors without compromising the floor plates above.
  • Conduct test fits of typical life sciences lab/office programs to validate the floor plate configuration will yield a satisfactory arrangement for a wide range of tenants.
  • Ensure the design promotes a sense of community throughout the building.  Life sciences companies succeed through discovery, which is fostered by collaboration and interaction.

Reconceiving projects during design from office use to lab/office use is a savvy short-term solution to the current lack of demand for office space.  With a well-informed shift in design focus, the results can be equally as successful as if they were the original intentions.

The Flexible Design of Post COVID-19 Workplaces


October 7, 2020


Lucianna Scordo, Melissa Kennedy & Neli Ialamov

Staff Bio

This pandemic has surely changed the way of the world. It has also significantly impacted the way we work. So, what is to come for workplace design?

With the spread of COVID-19, a dramatic shift has taken place in the way we work and interact with our colleagues and clients. As we continue to learn more about the virus and methods of prevention, we look to the future to see what lessons can be drawn from this pandemic, and how our offices can be better prepared in the years to come. Even in a post-COVID-19 world, when temperatures start to drop and we enter cold and flu season, it will be more important than ever for employees not only to be safe from the spread of germs, but also FEEL safe in an office environment.

So, where is corporate interior design heading? Here are some of our top predictions:

Flexible design still reigns

The pandemic has shown us that companies benefit from remaining flexible and fluid in unprecedented times, both within the office space and when addressing unforeseen challenges. While established offices have quickly pivoted to implement social distancing and rigorous cleaning practices, future office spaces can rely on pre-meditated design choices to mitigate the risks of future viruses, from large-scale pandemics to the common flu. This will ultimately lead to safer, more agile environments where both employees and clients feel safe doing business.

Open office may get even more open

While at first glance, one might assume that open collaboration spaces would be less desirable in future designs to properly maintain social distancing, we believe the opposite to be the case. Enclosed areas may be phased out to support the introduction of an advanced open office, which prioritizes proper circulation and air filtration. An open space allows employees to remain socially distanced, rather than being confined to an enclosed office or meeting room. In addition, defined circulation paths let employees move throughout the space in a manner that promotes one-way travel, to limit close interaction, and circumvents encroaching on others’ workspaces. Obviously, with this true open office plan, challenges will be presented, such as noise considerations.

Bring fresh air into the space

As previously mentioned, air circulation is something that is now and will continue to be an important element of office design. This design development will lead to close collaboration between the architect and engineers, as we work to find the most efficient method to consistently reintroduce and circulate fresh air into the office.

Surfaces needs to be cleanable

As has already started to be the case, design will pivot to the use of materials that are easily cleaned, such as plexiglass and wipeable fabric. Even when this pandemic is over, we still see the cleanability of shared surfaces to be an important consideration of design.

 Consider touchless items

Automated mechanisms will be integrated into the office design, with the proliferation of touchless technology for high-traffic objects such as trash cans, doors, and soap dispensers. The reduction of touchable shared surfaces will limit the spread of germs amongst staff and visitors, and lead to less clean-up overall.

Organized PPE

Just as there are personal protective equipment (PPE) stations in lab spaces, we envision such stations becoming more prevalent in offices to mitigate the risk of the spread of germs. These stations may even become an element of the design in the space, creating a functional yet elegant solution to distribute hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves. Cleanliness has always had its place in design, but we now see opportunities to expand the design with simple and cost-effective changes.

Our office spaces will adapt and evolve to best serve both business and employee needs. However, as it is difficult to foresee every challenge the future may hold, one thing remains certain: flexible and agile spaces that allow us to pivot with our changing needs will continue to be at the core of every design.

The Importance of Who and What During Pre-Design: Designing for Your Company


April 22, 2020


Neli Ialamov

Staff Bio

Neli Ialamov

TRIA has prided itself on a holistic design approach since its founding. Using a specialized visioning and programming series, our team takes its time to understand the specific needs and requirements of a company, its leadership, and employees. This process has been honed and refined over the years, allowing our designers to tailor each project to reflect a company’s core values and principles without sacrificing efficiency and cost-awareness. But what exactly does visioning and programming entail?

Visioning is the process of understanding who a company is, and who they want to be moving forward in the future. At TRIA, we rely heavily on “inspiration images” during this process. Over a series of meetings with leadership, various employee divisions, and many times the company as a whole, “inspiration images” are presented to understand the likes, dislikes, and needs of an office. These images can portray material, color, texture, lighting, organization and more. Once as much feedback as possible is received, it’s important to review notes and synthesizethe overarching themes revealed. This creates a baseline understanding of company culture, in addition to allowing employees across all levels to better comprehend the individual wants and requirements of their coworkers.

Going hand-in-hand with visioning, programming research defines what a company requires to function effectively. This phase acknowledges the current state of the office, and searches for redundancies or inefficiencies, in addition to what is already working well. While visioning allows for a more qualitative approach, programming relies heavily on the quantification of the business’ day to day and foreseeable future. For example, a company might currently have four dedicated collaboration spaces that are frequently booked, however is anticipating hiring twenty more employees over the next year. It is important to take this information and calculate whether the current collaboration space count can effectively serve the additional employees, or whether more spaces will need to be planned. This sort of thinking can be extended down to each individual in the company, in terms of seating and desk preferences, organizational needs, technological requirements and more.

The combined effect of visioning and programming during pre-design creates a design reflective not only of the core values of the company, but also the needs of its employee base. TRIA’s extensive experience with offering a holistic design approach has repeatedly shown the importance of offering employees a space that best suits their daily activity. As staff dedicate 40+ hours a week to their work, it is critical to supply employees with amenities that assist in their satisfaction and efficiency. This not only increases staff support, but also the general company output. By giving everyone in the company an opportunity to partake in the design and final feel of their office, you are giving employees a sense of autonomy and responsibility, strengthening the bond existing between co-workers and leadership.

A Note from TRIA Regarding Covid-19


March 20, 2020

We are closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation and taking precautions to make sure the safety and health of our employees, clients, and partners are our number one priority. Needless to say, the heart of our core values are relationships and making sure we stay committed to our clients. Because of this, TRIA is dedicated to serving our clients and making sure that we continue to meet our deliverables and ongoing project needs. We are proud of the fact that many of the clients we serve are in the life sciences industry, a critical need now and always.

The following are just a few ways we are putting safety first:

  • We are thankful that technology has enabled all our employees the ability to work from home. While the TRIA office remains open for employees that prefer to come in, most of us have set up fully functioning workstations at home.
  • In our office, daily deep cleans are taking place to protect our employees who prefer to work from the office.
  • We encourage our staff to schedule client and/or project team meetings virtually to support the need for social distancing and limited travel.
  • Communication is key during this time. Leadership continues to send emails to staff with updates to this ever-evolving situation. All employees have Skype for Business enabled to allow for easy contact with one another.

At TRIA, we will continue to monitor the situation and respond to changing needs during this unknown time. We stay committed to the safety of our employees, continuing to meet project deliverables, and doing our part to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Last, but not least, we want to deeply thank the healthcare workers in Boston and around the world who are working tirelessly to treat patients. Our thoughts are with these fighters.

Be well,

Your friends at TRIA