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Raising the Bar: Regenerative Design Thinking and Laboratory Project Process

Margaret Montgomery and Allen Schaffer, NBBJ

Programs such as Labs21 and LEED™ are pushing the laboratory typology in an exciting direction: providing the incentive to examine their distinct environmental impacts and find the solutions for reducing their energy consumption. As more designers, owners, and government agencies become cognizant of sustainable building principles, it is assumed that the benefits to society will increase measurably, both in terms of the economy and quality of life. However, it may be that designers' and owners' reliance on the established "green" checklists will lead to a disconnect from larger contextual issues. To investigate this concern, we would like to take a step back from the standard procedures and look more broadly at our project's place in the world.

From its initial conception in the owner's mind, to its impact on the environment, role in society, and economic livelihood, we are seeking a more holistic process. We are developing a new set of tools that will help to shape the questions, propose the answers, and track the design to achieve a unified, regenerative solution.


The presentation will focus on four key issues during the life of a project and utilize examples from project experience, research, and data.

Owner Project Ideation
Regenerative design cannot be accomplished with a checklist and does not end when the contractor and design team deliver a completed building. It requires visionary approaches that begin with the conception of a need in an Owner's mind and thoughtful, holistic decision making at all levels, involving as many participants as possible.

Statement and Follow-thru of Project Goals & Objectives
The project design should support the mission and purpose of the laboratory. This relationship should provide the basis for regenerative design decision making which will motivate all parties to maintain the vision of the facility.

Full Project Life Cycle Links
Regenerative design, at its best, is the building and its occupants becoming a living part of the community and the ecosystem, while having a lifetime of positive influence on both. The entire project team needs to participate in designing new ways to track and improve this influence over the lifetime of our buildings. Participation by the project team from conception, design, and construction and beyond will provide opportunities to track and improve Regeneration over the lifespan of the building.

Integration: How Much and When
We must be mindful of our every move in creating buildings. The cooperation of owners, contractors, facility managers, researchers, agencies, manufactures, community groups and design professionals are imperative because we create buildings and places whose influence forever remains on the world in which we live.

Labs21 Connection:

William Reed describes regenerative design as the need to break 500 years of bad thinking. "Sustaining" is not good enough. Regenerative design does not target buildings but the whole project process. Broadening the scope of what is considered "whole building perspective" supports breaking old ways of thinking without creating more bad habits. Laboratory design can offer great opportunity to increase our scope of what systems the project team considers without focusing on specific components. It is in the systems, building, site, financial, that project teams find intelligent solutions to the complex matrix of creating and running a laboratory project.

As the key players change throughout the life of a project, regenerative design ties them all together; therefore, the efforts will not be lost in the big picture. Developing a framework to understand the "whole picture" provides a tool to bring us closer to the reality of regenerative design, thus supporting a better world.


Margaret Montgomery is a key proponent of sustainable and regenerative design at NBBJ. Throughout her twenty years as an architect, her experience has spanned a variety of project types, but always with a view to environmental sensitivity. As a part of NBBJ's Science and Education practice, Margaret is currently focused on devising sustainable research environments for the future. She takes a holistic approach, looking for opportunities to push each project towards a positive outcome for both the human experience and the ecosystem we inhabit. In this way she ensures an intrinsic link between her work and the sustainable values that guide her life.

Margaret is a licensed architect and LEED™ 2.0 accredited professional. She often represents NBBJ at sustainable seminars across the country, and has been active in Labs21 for several years. Her current projects include a University of Washington chemistry laboratory that is piloting the campus' first low-energy fume hoods, and the Medical College of Georgia's Cancer Research Center. She is particularly interested in finding design solutions to improve the environmental impact of laboratories.

Allen Schaffer is an architect with over 15 years of experience in the architectural and construction industry. He believes that he has a responsibility to provide the highest quality design within the parameters of environmental stewardship, financial responsibility and social consciousness. Through his project work he has demonstrated a sensitivity to client issues, accurate and timely dissemination of information, responsible follow-through and an ability to lead a project team through transformational design thinking.

He holds an architectural license in two states, NCARB certificate and is a LEED™ 2.0 Accredited Professional. Mr. Schaffer served on the executive committee of the USGBC St. Louis chapter in 2003. He has made presentations on various sustainable design topics at various venues including: Greenbuild 2003, 2003 SCUP North Central conference, HOK Sustainable Design Bootcamp and at the Washington University School of Architecture. While with HOK and currently at NBBJ, Mr. Schaffer is an active leader of sustainable design within the firm.


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