Future Labs

Future Labs

Lab Design Inspired by Natural Systems

Laboratories can exist in a way that both accelerates scientific research and contributes to, rather than dismantles, a healthy environment for people and the planet.

This straightforward, yet transformational hypothesis is at the heart of Future Labs, HDR’s series of design strategies that viably and economically address the environmental challenges that complex lab buildings create, drawing on inspiration from the human body and symbiotic relationships in the natural world.

Over two years, our team of designers, planners, sustainability experts and engineers worked together to rigorously examine and challenge long-held conventions related to laboratory design and develop design and engineering ideas that serve as significantly more sustainable alternatives. As these design strategies took shape, clear analogies to the human body — lungs, bones and skin — began to emerge, creating the framework for continued exploration, evolution and evaluation of Future Labs. Taken together, these concepts give us a glimpse of the greater whole and create a viable path toward regenerative laboratory design. 

Future Labs: How Natural Systems Inspire the Lab of the Future

Mayo Clinic Kellen Building Computation and Lab

A Case Study for Future Labs

The Mayo Clinic Kellen Research Building applies some of the most exciting concepts developed as a part of the Future Labs initiative. Intelligent execution of the wet-damp-dry lab planning concept delivers safe airflow while reducing energy consumption. A smaller grid creates an adaptable framework and a more efficient floorplate. And an expertly modeled façade produces a dynamic yet protective skin — informed by activity both inside and out. 

Why Future Labs?

"Many decisions that make sense in a mass timber building also make sense from a lab perspective: modularity, interchangeability and repetition. These things, whether a mass timber building or any other building, help bring costs down and improve quality. We need to move more toward prefabrication, and of course, mass timber excels in that." 

"I firmly believe that we are responsible for reshaping our approach to architecture and the resources available. We must effect a positive change on the environment, all while ensuring that the outcome is not only appealing, but also comfortable, functional, and ultimately leaves the world in a better state than where we started."

"We must look at the desire for flexibility in the lab environment. Maybe 20% of the lab has that need for ultimate flexibility, but 80% only has a need for adaptability. And so, one should rethink how you then plan the laboratory and provide systems with the required flexibility and the ability to maximize energy and cost savings." 

Greg Aldridge
Greg Aldridge

"Labs are high-intensity users of air and water, so they are naturally an environment where we can really make a difference. In rethinking labs from their basic requirements, we have a big opportunity to reduce demand for water, energy and carbon and, therefore, help provide for a regenerative future."

"Our biggest challenge is breaking down the current ways of thinking. From air change rates to protocols within the laboratory, things that have been perpetuated over generations need to be rethought and re-examined based on the advancement in science, technology, and building systems." 

"There's no point in designing a lab on a pathway toward regeneration that then falls apart in five or ten years. If the lab can't be maintained or hasn't planned for resiliency with future systems in mind, then a social or ecological impact can easily derail the performance we are achieving today." 

Alejandro Esparza
Alejandro Esparza

"Future Labs will come with a set of challenges that are new to the industry. Given our unique internal organization where, on any given project, we could have in-house all the required disciplines along with their precedent experience, we are ready for those challenges."

"Working with architects directly is a major benefit. We have the luxury of being able to contact them and then work through a solution to optimize an exterior window design or optimize a scrim or exterior shading to really reduce that peak solar to maintain that air change rate."

What's Next?

Over the next few months, we will release a series of design and engineering ideas, strategies and blueprints to help institutions, companies, universities and governments build better labs, to help assure their research building and laboratory designs more closely align with a goal that is shared with much of the research that is conducted within them: to improve and sustain life.

For more info contact

Diane Dowgielewicz
Sector Manager, Education & Science
Diane Dowgielewicz