The Shape of Labs: The University of Arizona Biomedical Sciences Partnership Building

By Andrew Labov and Jennifer Swedell

Contemporary research engages teams of researchers working together to solve complex problems. Today’s laboratory facilities bring different scientific disciplines under one roof to create opportunities for collaboration and cross-disciplinary discovery. Yet physical laboratory space requirements often vary greatly among the disciplines, resulting in unique challenges in laboratory planning and programming.

The Biomedical Sciences Partnership Building (BSPB) at the University of Arizona (UA) is a new, 10-story, 245,000-sq.-ft. research laboratory supporting the UA School of Medicine-Phoenix. This project was particularly challenging: while the UA had initially defined the broad research themes for the facility, no researchers were in place at the project outset.

Planning a high-rise, multidisciplinary biomedical research building under these circumstances required a thoughtful approach and creative solutions. Knowing only that the BSPB would focus on cancer biology, neuroscience, traumatic brain injury, bioengineering, and population health, the CO Architects laboratory planning team went to work.

Here are some of the strategies and solutions the team developed to address the planning challenges.

Programming Tool Kit

CO developed a programming tool kit for research facilities that helped the UA leadership quickly define the vision of the project and from their statement of broad research themes, its programmatic needs, functional requirements and cost. A series of interactive tools and exercises were used to build the program without knowing the actual users.

Multi-step process for defining research disciplines, laboratory types and associated utilities from research themes.

  • For each research theme, the team identified the attendant scientific disciplines, laboratory types and infrastructure.
  • Surrogate researchers active in similar research themes elsewhere at the UA advised on program development and planning standards.
  • Participants defined and prioritized program requirements according to criteria used later to evaluate design and budget options.
  • Types of spaces, activities and equipment that could be shared were categorized, and hypothetical daily activities of future occupants for specific uses were mapped.
  • Benchmarking metrics from similar buildings around the country and across campus were used to model potential sizes, and quantify the costs, of each space type.

Program Distribution Strategy

The results of the programming tool-kit exercises suggested a proportional range of laboratory types distributed vertically throughout the BSPB’s 10 stories.

Section / stacking diagram of laboratory types and supporting program space.

  • Lab types with higher fume-hood density are located on the lower research floors.
  • Labs types that could flex from wet-bench to instrumentation and computation are on the upper levels.
  • Administrative offices are on the uppermost level.
  • Lab sizes of 1.5 modules for Startup PI groups and 3+ modules for established PI groups.

New Workflow Paradigm

The proliferation of specialized research instruments that collect large volumes of data has changed the nature of the laboratory bench and the workflow within the BSPB.

Day-lit, open work areas with visual connections to labs, glass-fronted PI offices open directly to research teams, reconfigurable systems furnishings in work areas.

  • Previously the primary research area, the bench is now a place where samples are prepared for various modalities of investigation in dedicated procedure rooms.
  • Automation has increased speed and reduced the time lab members need to be in the wet-lab environment.
  • Resulting data is analyzed at computer workstations in dry computation space.

Typical Research Floor:

Research floors are zoned for various activities and arranged to maximize operational workflow and collaboration.

Wet biomedical laboratory with views to open offices beyond.

Flex laboratory configured for laser tables. Motorized blackout shades block day-light from open offices beyond.

  • All of the various laboratory types are designed to fit within the same floor plan configuration, enabling floor repetition and program redistribution / recombination.
  • An open office / open lab planning approach allows numbers and sizes of research teams to change easily by reassigning bench and workstation positions instead of moving walls.
  • Elimination of hallways between various zones increases efficiency, keeps hallways from becoming fixed obstacles and retains fluid boundaries between work zones.
  • A movable glass partition between open office and open lab areas enables the boundary to change according to team composition.

Completed in 2017, the Biomedical Sciences Partnership Building represents the vision, mission and aspirations of the University of Arizona and the UA School of Medicine-Phoenix. The modern, flexible facility successfully unites teams of researchers working together to improve healthcare across Arizona, the US and world.


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