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New Arup report explores changing face of science research facilities

Zaida España Zaida España Europe Press Office
18 September 2018

Changes in the nature of work will impact future lab design, according to a new Arup report, as science labs and research facilities become technology enabled, with flexible spaces allowing for collaborative, data-centric research.

As the creative and technical heart of science, research facilities will undergo a shift to become more adaptable, interdisciplinary environments that align with changes in the workplace. The report identifies a move towards greater work-life balance, the changing demographics of the workforce, and increasing competition among institutions and companies to attract and retain talent as some of the key drivers behind this shift.

Placemaking will become increasingly important as part of this transition, with research facilities forming part of a wider community designed to enrich and enable the lives of the researchers.

Labs will encompass a variety of work spaces from co-working facilities to incubator hubs and DIY labs, reaching beyond the conventional framework of scientific research towards a more accessible, public realm of scientific enquiry.

Research institutes will move away from the traditional, physically-connected model towards a virtually-connected model, with cloud-linked research clusters working together in real-time from remote locations.

Alongside this, AI, machine learning, automation, robotics, 3D printing, and blockchain technology will enable advanced analysis of data and transform how research is undertaken. These future-ready research facilities will be designed for a new generation of scientists working across disciplines.


Localised centres of excellence are likely to generate further public-private research partnerships between universities and corporate organisations. This new research ecosystem will bring together established research and academic institutions and industry champions with tech-driven start-ups and creative industries, often within an urban context.

The faster adoption of Open Science principles, making all aspects of science more accessible to everyone, will see an emerging generation of citizen scientists and freelance researchers join the fray, backed by online learning platforms, MOOCs, as well as science crowd funding sites.

Male scientist in lab. Male scientist in lab.
Changing technology, work-life balance and growing competition for expertise will shape labs of the future.

The report also offers recommendations for the design of these labs of the future, which reflect a digitally focused and human-centred approach to workplace design. Key considerations include:

  • Wellbeing and Place – While scientific functionality will remain key, there will be a greater shift to accommodate user needs and experience, both in terms of the place and location, as well as occupant experience and wellbeing.

  • Adaptable Spaces – Despite ongoing demand for highly specialised spaces, research facility design will bet on generic, flexible configurations to facilitate a wide range of multidisciplinary scientific activities. This means the provision of highly adaptable spaces, with a focus on technology infrastructure and digital connectivity.

  • Digital Disruption – Advances in AI, Big Data, automation, robotics and other tech-powered research solutions mean smart labs are here to stay, challenging the concept of a ‘traditional lab building’. Networks will also link scientists working remotely, connecting them in real-time.

  • Cities as Labs – Cloud-based labs, co-working, DIY spaces and living labs, many of which are emerging in urban centres, provide researchers with access to equipment and the scientific community outside the institutional framework.

Jennifer DiMambro, UKIMEA Science Sector Lead at Arup commented: “This report calls for a rethink of how and where research is conducted and how buildings and places can be designed to enable innovation. The idea of moving towards a more ‘one size fits all’ approach, with greater emphasis on place and occupant experience, marks a significant shift in how science facilities are designed and reflects the changing nature of work. The launch of our Future of Labs report marks an exciting milestone for us and sets out the drivers and trends that need to be considered when commissioning and designing research facilities. Intelligent design can help enable great science and we are excited at what’s to come.”

Please download the report, The Future of Labs, for further information.

The idea of moving towards a more ‘one size fits all’ approach, with greater emphasis on place and occupant experience, marks a significant shift in how science facilities are designed and reflects the changing nature of work.

Jennifer Dimambro Jennifer Dimambro Director