Campus architect Rick Weatherl brought the floorplan for the lab renovation by yesterday for me to review. We are at the stage where we know pretty well where the walls will be. Now we have to figure out how to make those spaces as efficient and effective as possible for course delivery. We’ve gone from what the spaces might look like to now having to consider how do we make them work.
One feature we chose to include in our design was a concept first seen at a Project Kaleidoscope facilities conference at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. UST had just completed a $39M building and hosted the meeting to show off their facilities. Being a microbiologist, I’ve always been on the lookout for effective lab designs that would work for my courses. Their microbiology lab had several features I thought particularly useful, and when combined with some of the things I liked best about the Texas A&M lab renovation from my time there gave me an overall approach to the new labs that we all believe will help us deliver exciting and effective courses.
In particular, we wanted our labs to allow faculty and student research. So, we developed spaces for students to set up projects (see PROJ at left) that would not interfere with other courses being taught in the same lab (a UST feature). We also wanted an anteroom where students could come and check on their cultures and do day-to-day work while other labs were in session (an A&M feature, see PREP at left). And we wanted our labs to be useful not just for hands-on labwork but also to be comfortable enough to also serve as our lecture space (a UST feature). We are adding a few ideas of our own – flat panel TV/monitors on the walls instead of digital projectors for greater definition when projecting bacterial images; cardswipe entry to allow students into zones of the spaces for conducting research after-hours. We’ve also decided printing out research posters (our students often do this as their lab report format) makes little sense when they can be fed by computer into flat panel monitors on the walls in the halls. So, our labs will be high-tech and versatile. As our architect put it, “When someone walks into the front doors of our building, those flat panels would scream, ’science is going on here’.” No longer will this be a static, lifeless place.
It is exciting to be part of this transformation of spaces. But it is even more exciting to be part of a program that is fearless about trying new approaches to find what works to build student learning. The spaces are different for a reason and purpose because our programs are different for a reason and purpose.