Know where you stand before taking your first step

Who would have thought the world would live through a modern pandemic that not only affected our health, but also how we work, learn and socialize? Additionally, we are now seeing higher interest rates, continued supply chain delays and increased construction costs throwing wrenches into commercial real estate and higher education capital improvement plans across the country. How do we best respond to this level of non-linear change? Historical trends become irrelevant and cannot be used for future projections, and widely held “rules of thumb” can no longer be relied upon for planning purposes.

Many organizations have hit pause on significant architectural projects and are now re-evaluating their plans. Other organizations are wisely taking a second look at the quality and potential of their current building inventory through a facility assessment asking themselves a number of questions:

  • Does it meet current code?
  • What is the deferred maintenance status?
  • Does the design easily adapt to new expectations?
  • Are we able to meet energy efficiency targets?
  • How current facilities are being used?
  • Are conference rooms/classrooms used for office or storge?
  • Are technical spaces such as labs meeting the need?
  • Are technical spaces being used as originally intended?
  • Has the staff returned to work?

These assessments give clients a tremendous amount of data points from which to improve decision making around capital planning to maintain the highest and best use of built assets. Comprehensive evaluation can help organizations determine current deficiencies in space and building systems and allow them to prioritize short-, mid- and long-term construction projects.

The benefits of an assessment

Founded on process-driven planning and analysis, condition and utilization assessments are simple and repeatable processes that provide the structure to planning amid uncertainty with the flexibility to adapt to changing requirements. The result is an implementable strategy to turn uncertainty into opportunity by recognizing the value of simply rethinking poorly utilized space and understanding repurposed potential. The result is improved alignment with new goals and initiatives. Strategies that can scale from one floor to one building to one campus and beyond. One thing these initiatives all begin with is a deep dive into the current footprint to gain a more complete picture of what possibilities exist.

A comprehensive approach

Plan your work; work your plan. In this fast-changing world, it is surprising how tough it can be to apply this simple, time-tested principle. It is time for a renewed emphasis and understanding of what you hold before you to begin the process of planning and problem solving. This results-oriented processes lend substance to the planning effort. Each undertaking can be either a stand-alone effort, or when combined into an all-inclusive approach, can lead to a better understanding of possibilities in the face of emerging paradigms. The key is to apply a multi-disciplinary team approach that can build consensus and support decision making. 

How can HERA help?

HERA’s experts understand complexity – the interconnectivity of space and engineering systems required to support a wide range of workplace and laboratory uses – and how to retune, refine and improve our client’s abilities to best use their space. Laboratory space is highly specialized and retrofitting offices or other buildings into labs can be challenging, for example:

  • At one confidential R&D client, we reviewed 300,000-sf of space over four buildings on three campuses to help them optimize, restructure and restack space to create a more efficient business model over fewer locations. The revised labs will be modular and flexible to allow for rapid changes in research and to facilitate a more modern working style. The careful integration of engineering with architectural planning will further allow for adaptability, greater efficiency, more daylighting and increased safety.
  • At the Philadelphia Navy Yard, HERA provided existing building and site conditions assessment and lab design criteria to help with future development of the 1,200-acre, 7.5 million-sf campus with a significant sector envisioned to become a life sciences hub, which will be a mix of renovation and new construction.
  • At Brooklyn College in New York, we analyzed the space needs of a four-building, 895,000-sf science complex to optimize organization and utilization for a 10-year time frame and beyond. The analysis provides a framework for future renovations of all the buildings. The study assessed existing conditions of lab and lab support spaces; made recommendations on safety issues; suggested program space allocations; and provides high-level lab planning criteria.
  • For the New York State Department of Health, we assessed 910,000-sf of public health labs spread over four facilities to feed into an overall life science market analysis to grow life sciences industry. HERA provided a visual review of major scientific and analytical equipment, a review of equipment lists, a review of floor plans of laboratory areas and a review of several previously completed reports and publications. The review of their current state gave a qualitative overview of existing general physical conditions and illustrated the strengths and opportunities of the organizations.


As with any challenge, the resulting report will provide countless opportunities to modernize space, create efficiencies and help organizations achieve their goals.

Having worked with clients across the country, one important tool HERA brings to every project is an understanding of trends, best practices and process. We call it The HERA Brain. This database helps us establish a scenario baseline allowing clients to understand typical metrics such as area per person per task; cost per square foot targets; typical tools and ratios to establish fume hood density; bench space; support space to lab space; and much more.

We employ our database of information to help establish the point of beginning for our work and to target desired outcomes for our solutions more effectively and completely. We hold dear that the assessment process should not be about what other clients have done in the past. Instead, the process zeroes in on an individual client’s needs, wants, goals and expectations to make specific and unique recommendations – to unlock a better future.

Other important tools include 3D visualization tools, which enhance communication. Matterport allows our lab planners to quickly scan and document existing spaces, which can be helpful in a building analysis. Autodesk Viewer allows clients to virtually walk through current and future lab spaces to get a full-scale feel for the benches, equipment layout, lab flows and adjacencies.

Next steps

Periods of rapid nonlinear change result in widespread uncertainty and possibly stasis. Improving our ability to see, understand and even thrive on change is the goal. Change is not easy, but with careful planning and analysis, sustainable solutions can be uncovered. It takes understanding to realize the correct challenge and solution, and to employ an effective approach that will proactively manage the change process.

The approaches, tools and experience described above are focused on understanding the challenge before solving the challenge. Founded on process-driven planning and analysis, these solutions are simple and repeatable processes that can turn uncertainty into opportunity – burdens to assets and ideas into action.

Clay Stafford and Eva Baker, AIA, LEED AP BD+C are both Laboratory Subject Matter Experts at HERA laboratory planners with deep expertise in facility and campus assessments and would love to hear more about the challenges you are facing.