Smart Flexibility In Lab Design How to Plan But Not Build Everything

Michelle Fennell, BR+A Consulting Engineers
Diana Tsang, Payette

Owners want flexibility in labs to futureproof, especially when users are not clearly defined. This often results in including everything that _might_ be needed for potential research needs. Through a design case study, our session will illustrate how planning for everything does not mean building everything immediately. The speakers will discuss important considerations like costs, feasibility for future installation, anticipation of technology changes as well as benchmarking with peer institutions.

The Institute for Integrated Science and Society truly embodies the tradition and vision of Boston College. Within a collegiate gothic stone exterior contextual with the surrounding campus, the interior is a high performance core both in terms of program and building systems. The program consists of approximately 159,000 GSF of new construction and 2,000 GSF of renovations, including teaching and research space to support General Engineering, Energy, Environment and Health, Natural Sciences, Computer Science, Makerspaces and a Cleanroom.

As most of the program spaces are new to the college and do not belong to a single department, no actual users have been determined during the design process. The interdisciplinary project-based nature of the research also means the labs need to be very flexible. These led to the design team's fundamental approach to keep the open lab and lab support spaces highly generic. However, we also realize the need to overlay at selected locations several higher design criteria, which includes specialty services at critical areas, higher vibration criteria, potential to convert a teaching lab floor to research, and anticipating future code changes allowing more chemical control areas. Drawing the line between building-wide systems versus users to make future final connections to equipment is also a fine balance. Planning for all these features ensures the building can accommodate the wide range of future research needs but not overbuilt before such needs are confirmed.

The MEP systems are designed to accommodate future needs while balancing first cost and energy savings. Chilled beams along with several other technologies work together to create a low energy solution that still allows for future flexibility.

Learning Objectives

  • Identify critical items for both the owner and design team to consider when lab users are not identified and expected to change over time;
  • Learn about possibilities and challenges to allow for program and MEP changes during construction and beyond building completion;
  • Understand how to balance flexibility and energy savings utilizing various technologies available for laboratory spaces; and
  • Identify the basic elements of lab planning from both an architectural design and engineering perspective.


Michelle Fennell has over 10 years of experience in the fields of HVAC Engineering, Energy, and Sustainability. As both an HVAC Engineer and Sustainability Coordinator at BR+A, she has been involved in the engineering of HVAC systems, energy modeling and sustainable project management. Michelle is a LEED AP, an active member of ASHRAE, serves as the Communications Officer for the New England Chapter of I2SL and was named one of Engineered Systems Magazine's 20 to Watch: Women in HVAC.

Diana Tsang, AIA, LEED AP BD+C is a Senior Associate at Payette. She has been a key team member on multiple higher education and research projects at Gordon College, Wheaton College, Boston College, University of Alabama at Birmingham, National University of Ireland, Galway, Brandeis University and Tufts University. She has worked extensively on projects that merge research, technology and campus identity, focusing on strategic space planning for highly complex programs. She received her M.Arch


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