Top Laboratory Design Trends for 2022-2023

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The researchers working in today’s labs are constantly innovating. So it makes sense that the scientific spaces they inhabit are just as dynamic. Because in our opinion, there’s no out-of-the-box approach to laboratory design. Not for the ones that stand the test of time, anyway.

At Area, we believe the future of life science is both forward-thinking and flexible. And with lab design evolving alongside the changing needs of modern scientists, there’s never been a more exciting time to join this industry.

But when things are moving this fast, how on earth are you supposed to keep up?

Don’t worry, our team’s got you covered. From smart labs to cloud-based collaboration, here are the top lab design trends in 2022-2023 to look out for. Guaranteed to ensure your business is both prepared for today and tomorrow, and ready to thrive in it.

Trend 1: This exciting scientific movement will continue to grow

Without a doubt, the events of the past few years have propelled life sciences into the future.

The Oxford-Cambridge Arc - commonly known as ‘The Golden Triangle’ - was responsible for creating the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine; a crucial component in turning the tide on coronavirus. Somewhat unsurprisingly when it's also home to the largest life-sciences talent pool in Europe; future talent that’s both driving innovation and offering world-class research for commercialisation.

This, along with a growing need for research and development, has inspired many organisations from outside of life sciences to transition into the sector.

That’s if they can find a place to start their journey into life sciences. Currently, there’s a critical lack of laboratory space - especially in the more established clusters of London, Oxford and Cambridge. According to Savills, despite record numbers of investor interest, the availability of lab space in the latter is virtually zero.

The good news is this hasn’t gone unnoticed. According to a report from Newmark, the industry’s rapid growth has created a need for 34% more laboratory space than in 2020. At this point, there's no doubt that this is a growing movement well worth being a part of. But just start planning as soon as you can to avoid disappointment and delays.

Trend 2: More flexible labs and faster R&D

Flexible working has turned the working world on its head - perhaps irreversibly so. And its impact on lab spaces is no different. In research and development (R&D), more and more clinical and controlled environments are now being designed with flexible furniture, e.g. locking casters that allow you to rearrange benches and workstations - as well as vertical stands that provide more economy of space. Not only that, some of these include in-house services such as gas and air that can be delivered via articulated arms fixed onto the ceiling. This means that when a bench relocates, these essential features move along with it.

Cutting-edge technology like this makes it so much easier to reconfigure the space, speeding up scientific workflows in the process. Importantly, it can help design teams make a wide variety of cost savings too. That’s because research can quickly move in new scientific directions, without the need for dedicated bench spaces or any major building renovations.

Flexible working and collaborative spaces also enable teams to innovate more easily. Because much like traditional coworking spaces, when lab spaces can be rearranged and opened up for more researchers, they encourage faster and more effective research and development. The beauty is that these researchers can work from inside the lab - or dial in from anywhere.

So throughout this year and next, we foresee there being a continued shift from dedicated lab benches to spaces that can be “rented” by researchers on an ad-hoc basis. In fact, many developers are already taking inspiration from modern offices; more and more flexible labs include movable benches and “plug-and-play” research equipment.

Trend 3: An increase in cloud-based collaboration

Heightened collaboration in clinical and controlled environments isn’t an entirely new trend. In fact, open-plan labs would often have twelve or more benches in one space; all in an attempt to increase collective thinking and creativity.

But more people together doesn’t always lead to increased efficiencies and outputs. And the past few years taught us that a remote model is a viable option for office workers who can be just as productive collaborating from anywhere. That’s why creating hybrid-style environments have become so popular in the design process. But if that's the case, why shouldn’t they work for laboratories too?

As a matter of fact, they do. Throughout 2022, more and more labs are relying on cloud-based technology to facilitate long-distance collaboration, faster drug development and other types of R&D. That’s because it’s quicker, more secure and allows for agile ways of working. Crucially, it can centralise vast amounts of data which has countless benefits for researchers around the world, e.g. allowing multiple scientists to interact, share data and unlock new ways of advancing research - all across multiple time zones.

But this isn’t the only tech that’s transforming the way researchers work.

Trend 4: Tomorrow’s smart labs will automate today’s processes

As technology accelerates at a rapid rate, we’ll also see more life science organisations create their own “smart labs”. Advances in fields like artificial intelligence (AI) have spurred the invention of a number of useful lab-based tools. These include sample freezers powered by sensors, lab benches that clean themselves and smart safety goggles that display useful information in real-time.

But that’s only the beginning of where things are heading. This year, automation’s leading the charge in supplementing - or even - replacing traditional lab equipment and processes. In fact, many innovative labs are swapping their benches with robotic workstations; ones that use miniaturised technology to optimise space.

And this isn’t the only way automation is freeing up real estate. The automatic collection of vast amounts of scientific data means large areas of these environments can be used for other activities. But the data that scientists do interact with are also being interpreted much more efficiently; computational modelling, machine learning and visualisation tools are making these jobs far easier than before. So watch this space, because as AI and automation advance, more innovative and cost-effective tools will become mainstream; all designed to reduce workloads, free up creative thinking and make the idea of joining the scientific space even more appealing.

The good thing is that there’s already an incentive for innovative companies to get involved in science and technology. And their projects don’t even need to be successful to reap the rewards.

Trend 5: Reducing design budgets with R&D tax relief

One promising trend is that R&D tax relief will continue throughout this year and next. This is great news for scientific organisations and for those entering life sciences.

Rewarding innovation and fueling growth, the Research & Development tax relief scheme can transform a business. Companies that work on innovative projects in science and technology can claim tax relief on projects – even if they’re unsuccessful. In order to qualify, you just need to explain how your project:

. looked for an advance in science and technology

. had to overcome uncertainty

. tried to overcome this uncertainty

. could not be easily worked out by a professional in the field

There are different types of tax relief depending on the size of your company and if the project has been subcontracted to you or not:

. SME: Fewer than 500 staff and either not more than €100 million turnover or €86 million gross assets. Most companies, including start-ups, fall into this category.

. Large companies: 500 staff or more and either more than €100 million turnover or €86 million gross assets.

Looking to design a more innovative laboratory environment? The good news is that R&D tax relief encourages this.

“To incentivise Research & Development using modern computational approaches, the government is extending the scope of qualifying expenditures to include the costs of datasets and of cloud computing. But that’s not the only help that’s available for organisations in this field. There’s also super-deduction,” suggests the advice on Gov.uk.

But this isn’t the only help innovative organisations can expect to receive.

Trend 6: Make savings with super-deduction

For expenditure incurred from 1 April 2021 until the end of March 2023, companies can claim 130% capital allowances on qualifying plant and machinery investments. Taxes are cut by up to 25p for every pound a company invests.

But what are capital allowances?

Capital allowances let taxpayers write off the cost of certain capital assets against taxable income. They take the place of accounting depreciation, which is not normally tax-deductible. Businesses deduct capital allowances when computing their taxable profits.

So what’s classed as plant and machinery?

Most tangible capital assets used in business are considered plant and machinery (for the purposes of claiming capital allowances). This includes things like:

. Solar panels

. Computer equipment & servers

. Tractors, lorries & vans Ladders, drills & cranes

. Office chairs & desks

. Electric vehicle charge points

. Refrigeration units

. Compressors

. Foundry equipment

Obviously, this is well worth bearing in mind when pulling together the budget for your equipment lists and room data sheets. Super-deduction means you can still design a cutting-edge laboratory environment - without breaking the budget. Just remember, you’ve only got until March next year to take advantage of it. So it’s best to start planning your space now.

Finally, there are a couple of other investment options available in non-dilutive and dilutive funding.

Trend 7: Finish development with non-dilutive & dilutive funding

Non-dilutive funding is a loan where no equity is given in exchange for capital. It’s generally awarded to life sciences companies in later stages of development when more risk has been mitigated.

Alternatively, there’s dilutive funding. This includes things like crowdfunding, angel investment, venture capital, corporate investment or family offices. They all have different approaches, timescales and support packages for start-ups so do your research beforehand to figure out which one’s best for your project.

You can find more grant opportunities on the UK government website. And for help with grant writing, get in touch with the Research Design Service (RDS).

These incentives are great for reducing the strain on design budgets. But this year and next, there’ll be more and more organisations looking to make savings with a much larger impact.

Trend 8: Take steps towards sustainable science

It’s no secret that resource-intensive spaces such as labs can leave large carbon footprints. But this fact hasn’t been lost on the scientific community; one that’s well-known for creating innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.

With climate concerns growing with rising temperatures, so too are the ways in which today’s labs are battling to reduce their environmental impact.

And they can do so right from the offset. It all starts with sustainable design and responsible suppliers. Because from green chemistry to waste reduction, there now are countless vendors that consider the “full lifecycle” of lab supplies. Just look for the sustainable stamp of approval from registered accreditors, e.g. ACT. Area endeavours to use renewable resources where possible, e.g. ferrock, recycled steel and insulated concrete forms.

But this isn’t the only place where labs are making savings.

Worryingly, the UK’s heating sector accounts for almost one-third of the UK's annual carbon footprint. But there are a couple of ways you can incorporate heating into your lab design that’ll make a big difference. Firstly, insulating your building can radically reduce the amount of fuel needed to heat it and lower its carbon emissions. And secondly, integrating renewable energy is a great way to reduce your climate footprint. In 2022, solar PV panels are widely becoming the go-to form of renewable tech and we’re now working with a number of clients that are using solar arrays in their laboratory spaces.

However, creating a more sustainable scientific space isn’t just good for the environment; it creates a more enticing place for employees to work too. Using natural furnishings, optimising light and ensuring there’s enough outdoor space are all great ways to boost employee wellbeing. Add to this a commitment to operate more sustainably and your organisation can suddenly seem much more appealing to work for than the competition. This is more important than ever in today's increasingly competitive landscape around attracting and retaining talent; the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported a record 1.29 million job openings in the UK between January and March 2022. When there are so many possibilities for science’s bright young stars, make sure your space prioritises their wellbeing and stands head and shoulders above the rest

But we’ve really only scratched the surface of where this exciting space is heading. Because when it comes to laboratory design, there’ll be plenty more innovations on the horizon. So just watch this space for more to come.

Top Laboratory Design Trends for 2022-2023