Why make your new science laboratory a flexible learning space?


A guide for principals, teachers, educators, technicians and assistants.

Benefits of a flexible laboratory space

In recent years, there has been a significant shift in traditional methods of teaching science. We are now seeing new approaches to the design and fit-out of laboratory work spaces. An ideal science laboratory is now one that provides flexibility and gives a secure and creative environment for both teachers and students. The 21st century calls for a shift in the way we teach our students and we are beginning to see a trend of positive learning environments commonly known as Self-Directed Learning (SDL) or in science, Self-Directed Research (SDR). Open and flexible laboratory spaces can be adapted to meet the needs of the students and teachers and provide opportunities for individuals to work and interact in a way that is most conducive to their own learning style.

What type of learning do you want?

There are many different types of learning styles in today’s world. Incorporating these styles into the teaching of students allows us to cater towards the individual needs of the student. Types of learning methods can include:

  • Social and collaborative learning
  • Integrated curriculum
  • Self-Directed/teacher-directed learning
  • Individualistic learning
  • Project work
  • Direct instruction

From a student who is cooperative learner to one who is an independent or competitive learner, a good laboratory design will consider the ideal space for both, keeping in mind the need to accomplish theoretical and practical work. It is also worth considering the different needs for Physics, Chemistry, and Biology requirements. This ensures multiple subjects can be taught and utilized in the same creative space.

Educational impact of the design, quality and adequacy of facilities

Facilities provided by the institution plays a significant role in a student’s performance. Inflexible spaces and poor infrastructure has proven to lead to poor student outcomes. Proper design, quality, and adequacy of labs are important because they can affect more than just learning outcomes. They can also impact:

  • Student and teacher relationship
  • Access to resources
  • Professional learning opportunities for teachers
  • Individual needs and interactions
  • School atmosphere and culture
  • Curriculum, pedagogy and pathways
  • Occupational Health and Safety


Key considerations in flexible science laboratory design

Creative flexible space and furniture

Maximizing flexibility has always been a key challenge in the process of designing a laboratory. The main motive is to engage the students in a range of activities using all the available resources in a given limited space, so that students can demonstrate learning in different ways. The opportunity for working alone, or in small, medium or large groups still exist in the same space. This is mostly achieved through choice of furniture.

Multipurpose spaces

Many laboratories today are equipment intensive and need as much bench space as possible. Modular reconfigurable furniture is ideal to accommodate different group sizes from large to small to one-to-one. Modern labs are designed with mobile casework except for the fixed fume hoods and sink modules due to plumbing requirements. There are several types of movable casework available which can be reconfigured to suit a multipurpose learning space.

Specialist focal points

Specialist focal points are still a ‘must’ for today’s laboratories. They are often located adjacent to flexible spaces and are mostly used for activities that can only occur in that space, such as physics, chemistry, and biology. They often contain features such as wet areas, gas turrets, and fume cabinets.

Considering STEM?

STEM does not simply refer to teaching of those disciplines, but focuses on creating collaborative learning environment for students and incorporates critical thinking across all disciplines. STEM is different from the traditional style of teaching and looks at a new approach which allows students to understand the relationship of the subjects they study and how science, technology, engineering and mathematics all work together. STEM prepares students to compete in the global economy and solve real world problems. A well-designed laboratory with flexible work space has the ability to facilitate STEM in one room. This is another reason to move away from traditional laboratory layouts that limit the space to just science.

Inspiration and Ideas

Inspiration 1 – Bringing the “Real Deal” into your Laboratory

Stimulate the ultimate performance by bringing professionalism into your laboratory space. In this inspiration we have a dedicated wet area to the far left, incorporating laboratory sinks and under bench storage space. Bring the university style research System 6000 with service spines and overhead shelves to transform your laboratory into a real laboratory. On the right-hand side of the room we have curved trapezium tables that can be set in individual, small, medium or large size groups. Have you heard that ‘sitting is the new smoking?’ – At the back of the room we have set out some higher standing academic work space with lab stools, this is to provide a ‘hot desk’ space for students who prefer to stand.

Inspiration 2 – Choice Equals Ultimate Outcome

Traditional Modulab E-Pod wet area to the far left providing specialist focal points with a built in or recirculating fume cabinet nearby, offering an efficient work flow. In the center of the room we have suggested curved trapezium tables that can be set in individual, small, medium or large size groups to facilitate individual and collaborative types of academic work. At the right of the room we have set out some higher standing academic work space with lab stools, this is to provide a ‘hot desk’ space for students who prefer to stand. A modular low couch system and a handful of bucket couches with low coffee tables provide a high comfort area and flexible space.

Inspiration 3 – The Academic Hive

This layout focuses on the academic aspect of learning with plenty of seating space. This allows for a full class to be seated simultaneously whilst providing specialist focal points on the side, plain and curved trapezium flexible tables, standing academic work space with lab stools, open lockers to reduce clutter and a built-in fume cabinet to facilitate multiple chemistry practicals.

Inspiration 4 – Sometimes “Less is More”

This inspiration leans towards academic learning and offers a very open and flexible space. With wet laboratory specialist focal points dedicated to one corner and standing academic work space with lab stools, this design gives plenty of scope for collaborative and individual learning types. It allows a wide berth of learning styles including:

  • Lecture method
  • Discussion Based
  • Demonstrational
  • Buzz groups
  • Brainstorming
  • Role plays
  • Practical experiments

Designing and Costing

How do I design and cost my space?

It can be an often a daunting undertaking when tasked with setting up a new laboratory work space in your organisation. Getting clear on the objectives of the work space is one thing, satisfying those objectives, on the other hand, is a difficult task to say the least. The best thing you can do is spend some time doing some research and sitting down and consulting with laboratory professionals to identify end user needs. It will also be beneficial to get a couple of concept designs in the early stages as a bit of a starting point. Laboratory fit-out companies should be able to provide you with some high-level concept designs of a few different work spaces to kick-start your new laboratory journey. Don’t be afraid to even request a custom design tailored to your work space. Providing budget figures upfront to your consultants can ensure the design you receive will be able to fit into your budget.

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