How Much "Ability" do you Need?

by Jeff Schantz

June 17, 2016

Science changes constantly, so science buildings need to constantly change

Having the ability to change quickly and affordably has always been a challenge. The more "ability" required, the greater the capital costs will be. Adopting a "flexibility everywhere" approach can quickly spiral costs and complexity, resulting in an overly complex and expensive building when simplicity and low cost is needed.

At EYP, we have five strategies to help our clients understand the tradeoffs between cost and capability that I refer to as the Five Abilities:

  • Flexibility
  • Adaptability
  • Convertibility
  • Sustainability
  • Manageability

Balancing these strategies is an essential methodology for getting the right fit for your research enterprise. These principles can help guide decision making and explain to stakeholders the tradeoffs involved. 


Flexibility describes the ability to change, move, or redeploy assets such as casework, equipment and utilities at the laboratory bench or room scale without under taking building renovations or plan changes. It is the ability to customize space using movable components, equipment, and utility connections. It typically involves adding or changing specific capability for a specific researcher, research group or core facility. The approaches we use to build flexibility into lab planning include:

  • Modular planning and design
  • Movable or demountable benches, casework and furniture
  • Demountable exhaust equipment: Bio-safety Cabinets and Fume Hoods
  • Quick connect utility panels for gas, power, and data distribution
  • Structured utilities with easy accessibility
  • Process equipment and closed system instruments as primary tools
  • Advanced control systems


Adaptability describes making minor renovations to change rooms, zones, or horizontally and vertically stacked zones to accommodate a change in program or mission. Adaptability could also mean revising HVAC Systems to fit a particular program, installation of new services, or additional power requirements. In other words, it implies that the current state of affairs is not suitable, and the space should be adapted to program needs. Spaces that work best for adaptation would have the fewest fixed features or "monuments" (ie: shafts, elevators) that would inhibit changes. The approaches that support adaptability are:

  • Systems Diversity: Additional MEP Capacity
  • Open Labs
  • High Bay Spaces
  • Unrestricted Ceiling plenums
  • Flat Slab Construction
  • High Floor to Floor heights >15'-0"
  • Cloud Ceilings
  • Demountable Lighting
  • Extra Capacity - Electrical Panels
  • Shared Resources


Convertibility refers to space that can convert from wet to dry and back, change entire programs (labs that can become a cleanroom or vivarium), or be entirely repurposed, regardless of research vectors. These are major renovations that replace entire systems, require demolition to the structural frame, and major interior design changes. Having a high degree of convertibility implies a fairly robust core and shell with good environmental performance including vibration, EMF, acoustic, thermal, and humidity. Approaches that create highly convertible space include:

  • High Performance Structure
  • High Floor to Floor Heights >16' - 25'
  • Robust Infrastructure
  • Self Monitoring Controls
  • Performance Zoning
  • Wet:Moist:Dry Zoning
  • Managed Chemical Storage to lower fire compartmentalization requirements
  • Generous vertical distribution pathways


Sustainability is becoming more important every year as energy costs fluctuate and the impacts of climate change become more apparent. Most lab buildings are energy hogs by any measure, so achieving "true sustainability" implies much more than energy costs. True sustainability means your project is energy efficient, environmentally responsible, and financially sustainable. Achieving all three together yields high performance buildings that are about much more than the LEED Medallion - it means real energy savings, actual environmental impacts, and affordable operating costs. Not every lab needs to be LEED Platinum or Net Zero to make a difference. To achieve optimal performance, you may want to consider these approaches to sustainable design for labs:

  • Abundant Daylighting - "Floor Through" Labs
  • Life Cycle Analysis
  • Cost Benefit Analysis
  • Building Envelope Energy Analysis (required in most jurisdictions)
  • Advanced building controls for exhaust air systems
  • Lower air change rates (ACH)
  • Occupancy Sensors for lighting and exhaust devices
  • Ventilated Caging Systems for Vivaria
  • Recyclable materials
  • Intelligent water usage and recovery
  • Heat recovery systems


Manageability means taking a "holistic" approach to lab design to create a facility that can be sustained financially over the ownership cycle because it can be properly maintained while having a minimal impact on deferred maintenance budgets. This does mean gold plating systems or making every system a 100 year component. It can be as simple as proper access to active components for proper maintenance. Commissioning is the key to proper performance, but it also is a key to establishing baseline operating conditions, establishing proper protocols, and maintaining "operational discipline" throughout the life cycle. Approaches that will help you create a more manageable facility include:

  • Design Phase or On-Board Commissioning
  • Whole Building Commissioning
  • Accessible Infrastructure
  • Design for Safety - Proper Clearances, Equipment, Procedures
  • Active Components outside labs, vivariums, instrument rooms or other high hazard areas
  • Interstitial space
  • Active metering and display of energy systems
  • Integrated DDC Monitoring and Controls
  • Develop Waste and Materials Management policies beyond recycling
Jeff Schantz

Jeff Schantz, AIA

Science & Technology Sector Leader