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INSIGHTS: Get With the Program: Steps to Establish a Program for a Successful Renovation Project

Charlie Johnsrud 05

Charlie Johnsrud, AIA


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Originally printed in Laboratory Design, Volume 16, Number 5, September/October 2012

There is a time-honored process for the creation of a new building or renovation of an existing one. However, over the last decade, new factors have emerged which influence the design process. Alternative techniques have been developed to respond to those changes to insure an effective result. When all functions and features of a project have been provided and the schedule and budget are met, then a project is generally considered successful. The classic cost-benefit curve illustrates that early-on decisions are implemented more effectively, have less impact on the project, and reduce costs for both design services and construction. The activity commonly referred to as “Programming” is now “Project Definition” and must involve all parties and encompass all issues in order for the project to succeed. The methodology described here has been utilized to deliver highly complex and time-critical renovation projects as well as define new buildings.

The Project “Environment”

A project for a research facility, whether in a corporate or academic setting, needs to be part of the business plan for that entity. In recent years the state of the economy has forced increased analysis of the ‘business’ aspects in order to justify the expenditure. Other factors have also required a change in the traditional approach. The complexity of the scientific organization has grown as the value of true collaboration is understood. Initiatives pursued have increased with the completion of the Genome Project, the shift to biological-based therapies from chemistry-based, and the growing collaborations of corporate R&D and academia. Organizations themselves have grown more complex in situations where outsourcing support services is being used as a management tool or, alternatively, where staff size has been reduced resulting in a smaller staff that rarely has the time to ‘follow the details’.

The environment a project is executed in has changed substantially. The “Traditional Project” was initiated as part of a well-defined, static business plan. The R&D process was consistent and many services, research support as well as facility operations, were provided by employees. Companies viewed the project as a continuation of the long-term investment in facilities and in-house capabilities. Today a “Contemporary Project” progresses in an extremely dynamic business environment. The source of compounds may be internal but could be licensed-in, and frequently the support services are outsourced. The approvals for the owner’s investment, the planned project, are incremental and reconsidered at multiple ‘stage gates’. In addition, project drivers established for purposes beyond the specific functions include such goals as sustainability, energy savings, and lean operations. These are definitely desirable but will complicate priorities and add advocates to the project decision-making structure. This “Contemporary Project” is a dynamic process that cannot follow a linear path and must include numerous participants who will play a role in delivering the project.

Alternative Programming Methodology

Traditionally programming has been the first step in a project. In a “Contemporary Project” the ‘programming’ or ‘conceptual design’ phase is actually project definition and the project will not receive management approval without a project scope that has been thoroughly vetted. This requires a process that tests potential solutions using the team’s knowledge of the functions and operations and in a renovation project, an understanding of the existing building, systems, and operations. This testing happens while traditional programmatic requirements are collected. Viable options are required to test requirements and priorities since they will shift based on immediate needs and costs, and always significant is the influence of the project participants. The dynamic nature of contemporary business planning means the rationale for a project is subject to regular challenges.

The methodology utilized to define the appropriate project in this dynamic environment uses programming “rounds”. This insures the project team is collecting the information appropriate for the development of the project as well as for the evaluations and decisions that come with these regular – and frequent – challenges. There are typically six rounds. The first three complete the documentation of traditional programming but by cycling through these rounds and working with information at higher levels, solutions are advanced and priorities identified, organized, and tested. These rounds are conducted from project initiation to the Schematic Design Phase or Basis of Design. The fourth is used in the Design Development Phase and the fifth is for final reviews of the contract documents prior to issue for construction. “Round 6” is the post-occupancy evaluation ideally done approximately a year after the project was occupied. This article will elaborate on the first three rounds.

For each round there are three stages necessary to thoroughly understand the information collected, incorporate it as needed for design development, and provide the basis for the next round. These three stages are termed ‘Discovery’, ‘Diagnosis’, and ‘Definition’.

JA Lab Design Rounds

“Round 1” is an overview of the business of the organization. The “Discovery” stage involves collecting the goals and drivers for the project, understanding the relationship and desired adjacencies of the group to the whole organization, and being aware of the current operational methods and any likely changes. Unique features and requirements are noted. A team knowledgeable about the facility type and the specific facility will use this high-level information to “Diagnose” the project in order to prioritize requirements and start to frame alternate approaches. The “Definition” of information at this round is relationship and general flow diagrams, preliminary space list, and ‘Lab Planning Units’ that define overall area requirements, and primary features for the functions. An example of the type of information collected in Round 1 would be to understand how cages are changed. It is sufficient to know that an animal transfer cabinet is used since it will drive space and flow issues but the exact model or other specifics are not required at this point in the project.

“Round 2” Discovery initiates collection of the detailed requirements beginning with general requirements for each space or function. The functions and flows within each space are defined as are equipment functions, utilities and services. Spatial requirements projected as part of the first round are tested with this additional information and confirmed or adjusted. In a renovation project the existing conditions will likely have a significant influence on the design options and the facilities and adjacent operations are investigated during this round. Experience with renovation projects is critical since working with existing conditions adds complexity not encountered when designing a new facility. Knowing what to anticipate as well as working through compromises on “ideal” floor plans is critical to the success of a renovation project. The Definition of the project at Round 2 includes blocking & stacking confirmation, equipment lists, and infrastructure requirements and potential impacts to existing systems. In addition, “Category Diagrams” that illustrate various degrees of renovation scope are very useful in communicating likely scope to an estimator for a “30,000 foot” budget check.

“Round 3” completes the level of detail expected in traditional programming. By this point in the project options have been considered, priorities identified and evaluated, and the major impacts to the building infrastructure are identified. The original budget has been converted to a project budget which becomes the primary tool in ‘value management’. In addition, the project team is aligned with the schedule.

The project has been defined and vetted and will proceed on track. While the dynamic nature of the project environment will likely generate changes, the thorough understanding of functions, features, and priorities make any changes relatively easy to address. Facilities have long needed to be flexible to respond to changing requirements and initiatives coming from the research leadership. The nature of those initiatives today requires that the flexibility of the project begins long before the first occupant moves in.

Case Study – Consolidation of multiple facilities into an existing building.

A large R&D organization with operations on multiple campuses and over 200,000 square feet of vivaria in three buildings wanted to reorganize and consolidate without creating a single square foot of new footprint. It was quickly determined that an animal facility on one campus would become the limiting factor in any strategic plan. The reorganization would shift scientific initiatives which would impact workload. The consolidation’s goal was to achieve efficiencies in operations and support functions.

The R&D organization investigates large and small molecule compounds and the three vivaria were operated for the specifically science supported. The biotech facility operated on one floor but maintained a ‘barrier facility’ and a ‘containment facility’ and strict protocols concerning investigator access and shared operations. The facility supporting small molecule discovery operated on multiple floors with protocols appropriate to those studies.

The ability to achieve the corporate goal of uniting the R&D organization to realize synergies and efficiencies hinged on whether all animal studies could be accommodated in a single renovated facility. The ‘traditional program’ was straightforward; species, animal room counts, features, etc. could be determined and would drive projections for support functions, including cage wash, feed and bedding storage, and others. The complications became evident when each group expressed the expectation that current protocols would simply be relocated, that flows would insure distinct operations would be independent, and that services, such as animal water, would remain the same.

The approach to the definition of the new, combined operation began with a high-level space program and test fit options that offered different operational priorities. These were accompanied by an order of magnitude cost estimate. Alternatives that did not achieve the goal of all animal studies – and all R&D – on one campus were also developed so they could be estimated and compared with the desired solution and it’s inherent compromises. The details that are well documented in a ‘traditional program’ were understood due to the team’s experience with all the vivaria and would not be significant factors in this first round of vetting the concept. Subsequent rounds of programming investigated and defined counts of specific species for all known and anticipated procedures, explored the rationale and alternatives to ‘containment’ or ‘barrier’ operations and how and where the facilities could be shared should future demands require it. The concept phase proved the single facility could be successfully operated for this R&D organization.

JA Lab Design Render1

Case Study – Non-human primate cognition suite within an existing toxicology vivarium.

The understanding of the project goals and high-level requirements are also required for projects where critical functions are being incorporated to an existing facility. The ability to shift between conceptual requirements and details while the project is vetted is critical to a successful project process. A project to provide a non-human primate cognition suite illustrates how the rounds of programming with the stages of Discovery, Diagnosis, and Definition facilitated option consideration at the appropriate levels of detail.

The client identified a 3,200 square foot requirement with one testing room, one control room, and two holding rooms. They also identified a location in their facility they felt would be appropriate for this suite. The real project drivers were immediately clear to planners who understood the function, the operations, and the existing facility. The main issues were circulation of animals from the main colony, assured acoustic and vibration isolation, and minimal disruption or interference to on-going operations.

Discovery verified these issues and defined the criteria. The ‘testing throughput’ was defined. Existing conditions were assessed by an acoustical consultant and building system arrangements considered. As with every design process, a multitude of questions were asked to ‘peel back the onion’. A ‘Priority Matrix’ was used as part of the Diagnosis since it led to further investigations to address specific criteria.

The location originally proposed by the primary stakeholders consisted of several underutilized holding rooms located adjacent to a mechanical room. With the information collected as part of these programming rounds the planners proposed an alternate location. The alternate was accepted once the noise and vibration issues were explained. The use of the selected rooms would be moved to the ‘underutilized’ rooms since the highest priority for this cognition suite was a peaceful environment.


The dynamic nature of contemporary business means that rationale for a project is subject to regular challenges. The programming team should be knowledgeable of the goals in the business plan to understand and define functions and priorities that will steer the project to the appropriate facility in the end. Planners with this specialized experience should lead the definition of functions within an existing facility so that on-going operations are not impacted. Finally, the program will act as a living document used regularly to evaluate priorities while doing ‘value management’ throughout the project.