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Modularity in Laboratories: Is It Effective and Is It Sustainable?

Punit Jain, Cannon Design

Modularity in laboratories has been the mantra for many years now, but the question is, is modularity still effective and is it really sustainable?

A hypothesis is that modularity is effective, widely used, and sustainable. This poster will go a step further and show the concept of universal grid and how it successfully applies to laboratory planning and design. The poster will use real project examples to demonstrate to the attendees this hypothesis.

Space is a premium and should be designed for efficient use and serve multiple functions. Resources are scarce and therefore design concepts should not generate construction waste or need wasteful modifications when a researcher or research changes. Excessive use of energy is detrimental to our existence; hence design ideas that require fewer materials and efficient use of space that is easily modifiable, thus reducing the overall embodied energy, are most sustainable. Through examples, this poster will show how we should design and outfit our laboratories that consider all three of these challenges.

In the ever changing world of science and research, conventional benchtop research, though still in use, is no longer the only modality. Research is supported and sometimes carried out using only complex pieces of equipment. The equipment varies in size and as technology develops, the size and type changes. Modular design is able to easily adapt to these needs and changes. Today’s biomedical research laboratories may be tomorrow’s computer laboratories, today’s research laboratoriess may be tomorrow’s teaching laboratoriess; easy adaptability is the key to ultimate sustainability. To reduce our impact on the planet earth, we will have to reduce new building activity and reuse existing buildings; just continuing to build sustainable buildings is not the answer. Flexibility and adaptability will help us achieve this goal. How a modular design will also be flexible will be demonstrated in this poster.

Changing equipment needs affect the utility and infrastructure need. Modularity in laboratories allows locating systems and utilities in a modular fashion that make them readily available, eliminating expensive infrastructure modifications. This saves resources and time. This flexibility also allows the use of flexible and modular furniture systems that are less labor intensive to install and save valuable time during first installation and future modifications.

In summary, the concept of universal grid will demonstrate how modular construction is efficient, economical to design and build and modify due to changes in research and research teams, while enhancing flexibility across disciplines.


Punit Jain, an associate vice president at Cannon Design, earned Bachelor's degree in Architecture from the Indian Institute of Technology at Roorkee and a Master's in Architecture and Construction Management from Washington University. With more than 15 years of professional experience, he has dedicated his career to sustainable design. As Cannon Design’s sustainable design coordinator, Punit is responsible for promoting high-performance design.

He is currently working on the following sustainable laboratory projects: Biomedical Research Building One for Washington University in St. Louis, the LEED®-registered Health Sciences Research building for Saint Louis University, and Stoffer Hall Science Building for Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas.

A Rotary Foundation Scholar and recipient of honor awards from the National Institute of Architectural Education, New York, and the American Institute of Architects, St. Louis, he has been invited to present and moderate on wide ranging topics at conferences nationwide including Labs21, Missouri Biotechnology Association, and Greenbuild. He has taught at St. Louis Community College and Maryville University and has been a visiting critic to Washington University and University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign. He has been published and quoted in publications such as R&D Magazine, St. Louis Commerce, St. Louis Post Dispatch, St. Louis Business Journal, and Approach.

Punit, a LEED Accredited Professional, is chairman of the St. Louis Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the Heartland Regional Council of USGBC, and the Ecology and Environmental Advisory Committee of the City of Clayton. He is also a USGBC National Board member.

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