Lab Design Considerations
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Laboratories vary significantly depending upon several factors, including their intended function, the types of materials that will be handled in them, and how many people they will accommodate. To that end, the design of a laboratory is extremely important.
The first consideration when designing a laboratory is selecting a site. When siting a lab, it's important to review important criteria such as the health and safety of the population in the surrounding area of the laboratory, public perception, and environmental concerns, as well as engineering and operations plans. The impact of both building and operating the laboratory should be examined carefully. Sites should be chosen so that accidental contamination will have the smallest effect possible and will be able to be dealt with expediently.
Lot size and topography are also important to choosing a laboratory site, as are zoning and covenant requirements and restrictions. The laboratory should be accessible, properly sized, and conveniently located near — or have easy access to — all suppliers.
Once a site is chosen, the next step is to design the laboratory room(s). The first order of business during this step is to determine the preferred room arrangement based on data collected. Things that should be taken into consideration include room size(s) and hood requirements, and how those will affect the room's layout, as well as the locations of exit doors, eye washes, and emergency showers. Another thing that must be determined during this stage is the fire and explosive hazard levels of each room. This information will be incorporated into the architectural planning in order to ensure that the lab design is not only efficient, but safe.
Once the laboratory room is designed, the next step is to work on designing laboratory wings. Laboratory wings are groups of rooms that are organized into blocks, based on the rooms' similarities in function and requirement. There are six major areas of consideration to be looked at when arranging blocks into laboratory wings. These include: number of floors, adjacencies and separations, flexibility and expansibility, windows, services and utilities, wing location and orientation, and the location of fume hood exhaust stacks.
There are several principles that should be considered during the design phase of a laboratory facility. For example, functions, hazards, and risks will all have to be identified, so that laboratory activities can be grouped or separated as needed. Things like wind direction, and potential cross-contamination between rooms, blocks, and wings, should be taken into consideration, as should the relationship between fresh-air intakes and exhaust stacks.
While it may seem peripheral, at this stage it is important to determine the materials to be used in framing, windows, exterior and interior doors, and corridors. These will mostly be determined by the type of work being done in the laboratory, as well as the type of materials that these areas will be exposed to. Depending upon the use of the laboratory, some materials will be safer and more efficient than others.
Another detail, but an important one, nevertheless, concerns furniture and casework. These items are available in a wide variety of materials, including steel, wood, and polypropylene. Again, the use of the laboratory will determine which materials are best. At this point, lab furniture and casework layouts will have to be determined, as well as whether it makes sense to have a fixed or flexible arrangement. The number of cabinets, refrigerators, and freezers used to store various materials, as well as where they should be placed, will also be decided at this stage.
When designing a laboratory, it always makes sense to call on the services of architects and engineers who specialize in this type of building. There are many issues that are specific to the design and construction of laboratories, and many complex problems to solve. Using qualified professionals will help to ensure the safety and efficiency of the laboratory, regardless of its intended use.
Laboratory Design References
Laboratory Design Organization
Laboratory Design Guide - Lab Design Resources