Creating a More Human Lab Space

On a modest budget, a new lab space adds value by elevating the company’s culture and enhancing the quality of life for scientific workers.

Global pharma and biotech manufacturing leader Catalent had modest expectations for a recent 9,500-square-foot expansion of its analytical development lab in San Diego, California. The new space was initially described as a “copy and paste” of the existing lab.

“It was presented as a simple job, but we saw an opportunity to do more,” says LPA Director of Laboratory Planning Isabel Mandujano. “Every project, regardless of the budget, can improve the workplace environment and be more responsive to the needs of researchers and staff.”

The process started with designers working closely with Catalent scientists to understand their unique processes. The focus went beyond equipment lists and code requirements to include a step-by-step walk-through of how they use the space. Designers focused on all aspects of the lab’s operations, including the storage and disposal of hazardous chemicals, ventilation systems and the movement of lab workers through the course of a day.

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A new break room connects scientists and office staff.

The designers worked as an integrated team, including engineers and interior designers, to orchestrate the lab environment around the health, safety and efficiency of the scientists and technicians.

“It’s about supporting lab workers in ways that improve cognition and reduce stress,” Mandujano says. “Research demonstrates that a better lab environment will reduce absenteeism, increase efficiency and promote discovery.”

Completed in 2023, the resulting renovation uses a series of smart, budget-conscious design moves to improve staff well-being, elevate company culture and enhance the Catalent brand, while remaining within the company’s budget constraints.

Social spaces form the heart of the building. While the existing facility largely kept scientists and office workers apart, the new break room helps them connect. A mix of seating areas, timeless mid-century modern furniture and high-quality finishes elevate the sense of belonging and enhance equity across the workforce.

It’s about supporting lab workers in ways that improve cognition and reduce stress.” — Isabel Mandujano, LPA Director of Laboratory Planning

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Lab spaces are designed to enhance the mental and physical performance of science workers.

In the lounge, designers preserved existing skylights to create a bright and engaging environment for scientists to step away from their work and de-stress. Exposed structural wood beams bring a sense of warmth to the space. Along one wall, a long interior window invites views into the expanded laboratory, creating an impactful experience for visitors and a sales tool for Catalent.

“Since it opened, the large viewing window has become a showcase where they walk potential clients through,” says LPA interior designer Nicole Correia. “You can see the action going on and what goes into the everyday process within the lab, opening the normally segregated lab space to the rest of the building and integrating all employees.”

The new lab space is designed around the mental and physical performance of science workers. Work benches are organized perpendicular to a large bank of exterior windows, allowing natural light to permeate the space. Each bench is individualized, with personal storage space, ergonomic features and easy access to materials. Gas and water services are conveniently located at the endcap of each row of benches. All of this makes it easier to work efficiently and stay in the zone.

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Each bench can be tailored to individual choices, including storage space and easy access to materials.
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The design creates welcoming environments for visitors and staff.

The expanded lab is integrated carefully into the existing space. Connections between the two labs, shared storage and equipment and a new gowning room enhance collaboration and efficiency.

Including LPA’s structural engineers from the beginning of the project gave the team a head start on evaluating the building and overcoming challenges. An existing mezzanine complicated penetrations for plumbing and drainage, but early sitework ensured on-time solutions. Collaboration with mechanical engineers made safety challenges around ventilation and storage more manageable. The integration of lab planning simplified the process of organizing the research environments for safety and ease of operation.

“This project is all about quality of life,” Mandujano says. “We were able to use science-backed strategies to help Catalent’s scientists do better work, be more resilient to stress and live healthier lives.”