How to Design Unprecedented Laboratory Facilities

Paul Erickson, Affiliated Engineers, Inc.
Marisa Keckeisen, ZGF

The new California Air Resources Board (CARB) Southern California Headquarters was designed to be largest, most advanced vehicle emissions testing and research facility in the world. Aligning this project with their mission to protect public health through the reduction of airborne pollutants, CARB consolidated their five existing locations into one remarkably sustainable facility that sets a new standard for energy reductions and greenhouse gas emissions, improves performance and efficiency of operations, and provides a healthy workplace for CARB's 450 employees.

Charged with designing a facility of firsts (i.e., the largest net-zero energy and most advanced vehicle emissions testing facility), the design-build team was tasked with designing a highly innovative, complex facility for which there is no known precedent. Beyond this, the building had to be designed to meet evolving research needs with the capacity to accommodate future vehicle technologies. This required the team to take a novel design approach, working in layers of ambiguity to meet the project's myriad objectives. Using this project as a case study, this presentation will show how to approach complex, first-of-their-kind laboratory projects that require custom solutions, including specialized lab design considerations that embed safety into the facility's foundation, intensive MEP coordination, and how to extend the architectural parti into all corners of the facility, including labs and vehicle testing.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand thought processes and approaches to designing a specialized laboratory with no known precedent;
  • Have strategies for embedding safety into the holistic design of a laboratory project that utilizes hydrogen, fuels, and other highly flammable chemicals;
  • Know how to translate the overall architecture of the building into laboratories and other testing spaces to create a beautiful industrial environment; and
  • Have an example of how to accommodate complex programmatic requirements, configure them to facilitate efficiency in motion across departments, and balance these needs with high-performance goals.


As AEI's Building Performance Practice Leader, Paul Erickson, LEED AP BD+C, manages the firm's sustainable design services and champions high performance design on projects around the country. Through his leadership and collaboration efforts, Paul has influenced the design of 20 million of square feet of certified LEED projects.

Marisa Keckeisen has experience across a variety of complex projects, including new construction and tenant improvements for higher education, civic, corporate, and healthcare facilities. Her detail-oriented, collaborative approach, and architectural software acumen makes her an asset in the exploration of project opportunities.


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