Looking closely at some of today’s older lab buildings can give you a hint of the design philosophy when they were constructed. Labs in many older buildings consist of confined, small – sometimes windowless – spaces in which a lone researcher or two would toil away. Work was performed insularly, and technology changed only slowly, making this rigid layout practical in its day.

In recent decades, it became apparent that in the 100-plus years a building might stand, lab practices were bound to change considerably, and lab environments would need to adapt to keep up. Lab designs responded to calls for more collaboration by moving to large, open floor plans, where there was enough room for all the necessary materials and equipment and numerous researchers would work in close proximity. This “ballroom” approach also lent itself well to the flexibility of repurposing space as dictated by changing budgets or scientific priorities. 

“Lab designers can reimagine workspaces that are better-suited for collaboration.”

Today, the oldest buildings are being updated (or replaced) with more open floor plans, while users and some designers are revisiting the desirability of the ballroom designs.  “The pendulum seems to have swung from the large ‘ballroom’ labs common in recent times to smaller-scale ‘neighborhoods,'” said Tim Evans, a lab planner with SRG Partnership (Portland, OR), in an article published in Lab Design News.

The neighborhood approach represents a middle ground between inflexible, isolating spaces and the noise and distraction that sometimes afflicts fully open labs. “Instead of planning 10 to 12 module open labs, we are now planning five to eight open module labs, which are large enough to maintain the flexibility, but small enough to foster collaboration,” added Victor Cardona, director of lab planning, SmithGroupJJR (Detroit, MI).

This trend has been reflected in the very building blocks used to create these flexible labs, from furniture designed with mobility and collaboration in mind to point-of-use technologies that can be adapted to fit a variety of applications. One technology that has evolved substantially to support this transformation to greater flexibility is laboratory vacuum.

Transforming vacuum technology
Historically, central vacuum systems supported all labs and were tied directly to the infrastructure of the building. Installation necessarily took place as buildings were going up. Such a deeply integrated system was nearly impossible to augment or reconfigure after the fact, so they were often oversized, with pumps and piping large enough to handle any demand that might ever arise in the future. As building designs increasingly emphasized flexibility, these fixed utilities didn’t measure up.

Local vacuum networks
Out of this need arose local vacuum networks, which gave lab designers and scientists agile and adaptable vacuum better suited for their collaborative and fluid workspaces. Unlike their predecessors, local networks can be installed only when and where needed. This eliminates the need to oversize an inflexible system today, only to have it operate under capacity for the life of the building, wasting space, resources and energy.

“Many modern science buildings are multidisciplinary.”

Further, many modern science buildings are multidisciplinary, bringing scientific disciplines together for the creative possibilities of cooperative research. As the disciplines have different vacuum requirements, a system that can adapt when space is reassigned or budget priorities change contributes greatly to the building’s long-term scientific usefulness. Owners can use in-house facility staff to reconfigure spaces, rather than incur the costs of building reconstruction. Beyond the savings in lifetime building costs, local vacuum networks confer lower energy and maintenance costs that come with using smaller, on-demand pumps.

VACUU•LAN® local vacuum networks offer lab users all of these benefits and more, providing high performance vacuum today, while remaining ready for whatever changes the future may hold. To learn more about local vacuum pump technology, contact us today.