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Creating Modern Laboratories From Existing Buildings: Lessons From the New Zealand Experience

Ken Collins, Lab-works Architecture Ltd.

In New Zealand laboratories are generally small facilities that are constructed and run on a tight budget. Redevelopment of existing buildings is common.

Lab-works Architecture Ltd. has designed and managed many laboratory projects that have used existing buildings as a base to create modern laboratory facilities. This often involves stripping these buildings back to their shell and completely refitting them. In addition to redevelopment of existing laboratory buildings, we have also constructed laboratory facilities from office buildings, class room blocks (some ex-WWII), shops, warehouses, factories, apartment blocks and houses. In many cases other parts of the buildings have been occupied throughout the construction.

We aim to provide our clients with innovative and robust design solutions to their laboratory needs that enhance their ability to deliver their services. Our clients want cost effective and sustainable laboratories.

Working with existing buildings offers more challenges than new buildings. I propose to discuss some of these challenges and the ways we have addressed them.

I propose to cover the following in the presentation:

  • Overview of New Zealand's lab scene
  • The case for redevelopment of existing buildings
  • Pluses and minuses of building reuse
  • Constraints of existing floor plans, structural systems, service cores
  • Achieving energy efficiency and user comfort
  • Existing services reuse, upgrade or replace?
  • Decontamination
  • HVAC and fume management
  • Waste management utilizing sacrificial plumbing
  • Joinery
  • Construction within buildings in use
  • Cost considerations


The major findings are:

  1. Existing buildings can be successfully redeveloped into modern laboratory facilities. The benefits in terms of sustainability, cost savings and timeframe can be significant.

  2. A different approach is required to make older buildings into modern laboratories than to build a new one. Some of the aspects that need to be considered are:
    • What gets retained?
    • Working to the shape and layout of the existing building
    • The building shell
    • Services
    • HVAC
    • Fume management
    • Decontamination
    • Joinery
    • Construction within buildings in use
    • Hidden costs and pitfalls
    • Construction management.

Labs21 Connection:

Lab-works Architecture Ltd. is experienced in turning existing buildings into state-of-the-art laboratories and managing the constraints that may impose the design and construction. Often the buildings were not originally constructed for use as laboratories. Reuse of existing building stock is sustainability.

My presentation is intended to reflect the Labs21 approach to laboratory design by discussing:

  • The main factors of the environmental impact of renovation of existing buildings and reuse of materials, plant, equipment and joinery
  • Some of the methods and difficulties in optimizing an existing building's efficiency and performance.


Ken Collins has been a Principle of Pynenburg and Collins Architects (PCAL) since 1981. Because of the significant amount of laboratory related projects that PCAL was being involved in and his interest in this work he and two fellow Directors established Lab-works Architecture Ltd. in 2000 as an Architectural company dedicated specifically to laboratory related projects. Currently they are working on projects throughout New Zealand and have also worked in Australia.


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