The Customization of the Flexible at the UMASS Amherst Life Science Laboratories

Adrian Walters, ARC/ Architectural Resources Cambridge
Jonathan Chan, Bard, Rao + Athanas Consulting Engineers

How do institutions plan for the future? This is a question that has been bandied around conferences for as long as we can remember. Several questions evolve out of this desire to plan for the future:

1. How flexible is flexible enough?

2. How much flexibility can you afford?

3. How much do you anticipate the program and use of the building to change over time?

4. How can you retrofit a heavily engineering driven program element into a building space it was never designed to occupy?

It is these questions, but especially the last one, that faced the engineering team for the fit-out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Life Science Laboratory shell space. This second phase of the Life Science Laboratory building's construction envisioned fitting out the remaining shell space in the south wing of the building with the newly created Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS). IALS is a joint venture between UMASS Amherst and the state funded Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC). The mission of translating fundamental discoveries on campus into candidate medical devices, biomolecules, and delivery vehicles also advances UMass's educational and economic development missions. Solving the design problems associated with creating a home for such an institute creates a unique and unprecedented opportunity for the design team.

Due to collaborative nature of IALS, the facility houses a much greater number of specialized core laboratories, in closer proximity, than would ever be the case in traditional academic or private biotech environment. This density of shared specialized core laboratories presented the engineering challenge of designing environments with much greater loads and requirements that were ever envisioned by the institution or the original core and shell design team. Our topic shows how seemingly impossible truths like (there is not enough capacity), can sometimes be overcome through the innovative integration of engineering, planning and architecture. By finding common ground between the design team and the client, each party has found a way to support their partner's goals while still furthering their own. This synergy between these entities allows each to pool collectively towards the goal of working within the core and shells' engineering constraints. Through case studies, benchmarks, and examples of lessons learned, the presentation will demonstrate how a synergistic combination of engineering, planning, programming, and architecture can result in highly intensive scientific programs being accommodated within existing MEP constraints that were never initially intended to do so.

Learning Objectives

  • How to find common ground between engineering and planning goals to solve complex problems.
  • Build and design core facilities that are of a caliber and density to attract the necessary academic and industry partners, while working within the engineering constraints of the existing core and shell design.
  • Built-in configuration flexibility, to allow for changing disciplines and scientific focus.
  • Find ways to create the appropriate contamination/ humidity/ & filtration control beyond the original core and shell's basis of design.


A leader in ARC's science and technology practice, Adrian Walters develops research environments that enhance a client's ability to differentiate themselves while also supporting recruitment, retention, and budget goals. Adrian's lab planning and technical expertise has been applied on complex vertical and horizontal additions, multi-phased renovations, interior fit-outs, and new stand-alone science facilities for a variety of clients including academic and corporate organizations.

Jonathan Chan has over 10 years of experience in the field of HVAC Engineering for many types of building projects including facilities for academic, corporate, and healthcare clients nationwide. He is a Registered Professional Mechanical Engineer in the state of Massachusetts as well as a LEED Accredited Professional. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Penn State University, is an active member of ASHRAE and the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering.


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