Bioscience and Research Facility Design Trends
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By Michael P. Vascellaro, AIA, NCARB
Trending any industry these days is like looking into a crystal ball and
expecting to find real answers when all you can see are refractions of your own
image. The truth of the matter is that there are certain influences on the
current state of research facility design that have less to do with the
bioscience industry and all to do with the socio-economic realities that affect
In this article we will be briefly review some influences that may have direct
impact on the research industry and may show us the way to chart our course as
design and construction specialists.
Simply put the world has changed more in the past 5 years than it has in the
last 60. It was announced during the second week of February 2011, that China is
now the second largest economy in the world. It has overcome Japan and is
bearing down strongly on the US. This comes as no surprise to anyone who has
bought anything in the past 10 years I am sure. While we were suffering a -2%
growth in the US in 2009, China suffered through a “crushing” reduction of
positive growth from 9.6% in 2008 to 9.1% in 2009. You might say they weathered
things quite well.
Although the US has halted its downward trending that decimated the economy in
2009, the average unemployment numbers for 2009-2010 range between 9.3% to 9.5%.
2011 levels are projected as being not much better at 9.0%. This is being
attributed to many factors but high on the list is our own construction
industry. While we are experiencing the lowest interest rates in recent memory,
that in normal times, would crank a strong construction machine, this is being
offset by a risk adverse banking industry. Basically, we have the fuel but the
fuel line is clogged. It seems that the banking industry is more interested in
short term paper investments in lieu of long term investments in substantial
infrastructure that can put people to work.
What effect does this have on research facility design and construction? It
means that any investment the research industry makes, it is going to make it
with largely their own capital. This is not in itself a new trend. Big pharma
has always had the cash to pump into new facilities to develop new drugs. If you
can recall just a few years ago when the trends and predictions were that
advances in DNA mapping was going to usher in a new era of personalized
medicine, well this is still true. We will be seeing tailor made pharmaceuticals
that target what our genetic make-up indicates as vulnerabilities in our own
body systems. But another trend is hampering these breakthroughs.
Besides other factors, big pharma is having a bit of cash trouble due to some of
their drugs patent expirations and in getting their new products to market. They
are spending most of their capital now on drug testing, retesting and the
modification of existing drugs to stretch their applications. In other words,
they are spending more money for less drugs. Recent reports indicate that there
are about a third the amount of new drugs in the pipeline as there were 10 years
ago and they are spending twice the amount of money on them. This is directly
opposite of what was projected and trending in 2001.
Another indicator of bumpy times is the reduction in venture capital to
bioscience companies. Because of the uneasiness of the economy, investors are
extremely conservative in where they put their money. Venture capital
investments rose from $7.8 billion to $12.2 billion from 2004 to 2008. As
everything else in 2009, it fell back to $7.8 billion and lost all the ground
gained in 4 years. The move forward is projected to be slow with moderate gains
as we move into this year.
State funding for state universities is also suffering. With the reduction of
state revenues, a majority of state governments are looking at ways to reduce
state spending. In addition, some of state project funding in 2010 had some with
Federal Stimulus money attached. That is rapidly reducing for 2011. This means
that university capital programs will have a double impact of reductions in the
coming year, one from state funding reductions, and one from a lack of stimulus
money that helped ease the hurt last year. This leaves many universities
wondering how they are to maintain current facilities let alone create more new
Are you depressed yet? Thinking that maybe you should buy another lottery
ticket? Well don’t go too far off the deep end yet.
Creative Recalibrating of the Bio-Science Industry
While shifts are being made in the Bioscience industry to accommodate recent
economic challenges, the bioscience industry as a whole still outperformed all
other sectors of the US economy.
Biotechnology growth rate is the highest because of the need to further develop
the product pipelines and Pharma’s push to utilize Biotechs for new product
identification. These tend to be smaller companies easier to redirect activities
and realign to new research.
Medical Device will remain moderate due to aging population needs. The expansion
of nanotechnology and manufacturing techniques provides us with new products
that are less obstructive to patients. New techniques for tissue processing and
banking are creating better products for implantation.
Testing Labs will have slow to moderate growth to serve the outsourcing needs of
bioscience and healthcare institutions.
Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing growth rate will the lowest it has
seen for quite a while. You will see more consolidation of the industry and more
outsourcing of services.
US companies are seeking more market penetration in developing economies. Many
companies sought alliances and built facilities in China to advance their
exposure to the growing needs of its economy rather than building new capacity
in the states.
Health, Education and Science Collaborations are on the rise. We are seeing more
collaboration between companies, more partnerships for specific projects, more
creative funding structures involving tax incentives with private money. This is
also strengthened by more efforts in “Translational Science”. “Bench-top to
bedside” institutes that combine university research, biotechnology development
and healthcare implementation have begun to take hold all over the US. With
every one being tight with cash, they see opportunities to collaborate talent,
relying on each core business focus and shortening the time it takes to produce
a workable technology, product or technique.
With the importation of many food items from other areas of the world and the
reduction of domestic production, food testing laboratories are springing up to
help insure the efficacy of our nation’s dinner table. New packaging
technologies have also added new testing requirements for stability and shelf
The Bioscience industry is also focusing on reorganization for greater
efficiency in what they have currently. Six Sigma analysis and best practices
are being implemented to drive out waste and inefficiency.
Design and Construction Trends
As a result of these influences, Design-Build Delivery and Integrated Project
Delivery (IPD) processes are seeing more interest. The breaking up of large
stand-alone projects into smaller more manageable remodeling chunks of capital
investment has brought these two deliveries into a new level of significance.
Here the owner is pushing to have tighter budgets and quicker schedules of
smaller amounts of work. “Surgical remodeling” of occupied spaces is becoming
more the norm. They are depending on integrated project teams to deliver full
projects utilizing a myriad of different contracting techniques.
With this a new emphasis on integration of design and constructor industries,
technology is being utilized to align design, costing, fabrication and
construction processes into one. The emphasis in the market has now completely
shifted to Building Information Modeling (BIM). This has come from a trendy,
non-essential fast way to model architectural spaces into an essential fully
integrated modeling package of all building systems. It is being utilized for
faster owner/user reviews by seeing full modeled spaces, tighter construction
bidding through real quantity take offs, subcontractor participation in design
(design assist) through model sharing, use of models in shop drawing stages,
clash detection reviews limiting costly on site identification of conflicts in
the field, pre-fabrication of building systems reducing time in the field during
construction, final as-built drawing production, and facility management
software integration for use by owners after building is in operation.
Energy and Resource Conservation
The last but not least of the influences on trends in the bioscience industry
relate to the use of energy and resources. Everything from energy efficient
building systems to the use of alternative energy sources and conservation of
water is being studied. What really is the minimum air changes required in a
specific lab, what diversity can we safely take on our electrical systems, how
can we minimize the use of hazardous agents in labs to reduce potential exposure
to our staff? These are questions being raised and areas where multiple hybrid
solutions are being developed.
Over the past few years, we have relied on the rebate programs from utility
providers, states, and federal sources to assist in the return on investment (ROI)
calculations to implement more costly alternative energy sources. Now, with
these funding pools being dried out, our attention is again to lower the costs
and emphasizing conservation measures. The technology and products available to
accomplish these goals are still in the growth phase but the industry is pushing
hard for practical solutions.
As members of the design and construction industry we are all looking at ways to
change in order to keep on the right side of a history not yet written. What do
we retain, what do we jettison, what we create a new? The influences on the
bioscience industry are vast and we as service providers need to see what is
happening now, share our observations, and shift our focus to not just to
prosper, but to survive.
About the author: Mr. Vascellaro, as Director of Science and Technology of
RS&H, is responsible for the programming, planning and design of science and
technology applications within research, education and production environments.
His background as a specialty architect includes more than 20 years of
experience in this field. His experiences with private and public agency clients
have provided an insight and understanding of the industry's diverse needs with
respect to budget, function, longevity, adaptability and evolving design
sensibilities. His project experience includes industry and university-related
medical and chemical research laboratories, engineering laboratories, full
service vivaria for small and large animals, clean room design and advanced
barrier and bio-containment (BL2 & BL3) facilities, pharmaceutical production
facilities and schools for veterinary medicine in the US and abroad. For more
information regarding their work visit RS&H at