Takeaways and Insights from the 2023 Lab Design Conference

Danny McGrail, community sector science and technology practice director, recently represented Henderson at the 2023 Lab Design Conference. There were roughly 300 owners, architects, lab planners, engineers, contractors, and product reps in attendance. Danny returned from the conference with the following four key takeaways:

A.I./Machine Learning

The conference’s opening session began with the provocative statement that “creativity is dead” and a quote from Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, “AI will disrupt knowledge workers.” These statements set the stage for the session. The speaker discussed how AI and machine learning are going to impact the future of design. The presenter then reviewed past trends and discussed if AI could have predicted them ahead of time.

The session ended on the thought that “creativity is not dead.” Practitioners and companies must instead adapt to using new methods. AI isn’t going to creatively solve the “snag” that many projects/problems have, people are, and we must do so in creative ways. Companies can no longer have BIM/production departments – leaders must be users of the design tools. AI and machine learning were common themes throughout many of the other presentations at the conference and were a lens through which many attendees absorbed/questioned content.


Sustainable and regenerative trends were major points of discussion at the conference. The industry has shifted from the focus being purely on lowest energy as decarbonization and resiliency have seen greater demand. There are now numerous strategies available to decarbonize labs and while most aren’t 100% fleshed out, many designers shared they are able to achieve 90%+ decarbonization vs. code. Many pledges and commitments on sustainability also now include elements of resiliency. It isn’t enough to just have a sustainable project – we must balance the tension that exists between sustainability and resiliency.

High Performance Lab Design

The industry is innovating – particularly around energy use, mechanical technologies, programming, and air change rates. These innovations were evident in several presentations, including one on incorporating “exhaust air” heat recovery on run-around loops – almost eliminating fossil fuel heating for preheat.

Cost/Schedule/Design & Innovation

Another emerging trend is that $1,000/sqft labs previously reserved for specialty type lab spaces or in expensive geographic markets like San Diego or Boston are now being seen in many regions. Speed of design and construction are routinely being used to limit cost. There is also a need to make buildings exciting to come back to. This includes the addition of collaboration spaces, cafes, and gyms.

Henderson Knows Science and Technology

Our purpose is to build a better world, and we love creating spaces that facilitate discoveries that shape tomorrow. Our passion for engineering began in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) environments, which means we know a thing or two about what makes them successful. Each facility has unique needs, so by understanding how the end users will work in their spaces allows us to provide design solutions that adapt accordingly. Science and technology is constantly evolving, so we use technical innovation and smart design for facilities that evolve, too.

Written By

Community Sector Science & Technology Practice Director | Associate


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