Q&A: Irvine-Based LPA Design Studios Looks to Expand Efforts in Life Science Sector

LPA Design Studios, San Diego

By Catherine Sweeney 

LPA Design Studios, an Irvine-based Integrated design firm is looking to expand its reach in the life science sector. With the recent hire of Isabel Mandujano, the company will continue its life science efforts across its six offices in Southern California and Texas. The Registry recently had the chance to sit down with Mandujano and learn about her new role as director of laboratory planning, and how it will aid LPA Design Studios moving forward. 

Q: Generally speaking, can you tell me about LPA Design Studios and what your specific role with the company entails? 

A: LPA is an integrated design firm with more than 400 in-house architects, master planners, engineers, interior designers, landscape architects and research analysts working across a wide variety of sectors. 

My new role as director of laboratory planning supports LPA’s growing work in life science facilities for corporate, pharmaceutical and biotechnology clients, helping to develop laboratory workplaces that support creativity and collaboration. Another important aspect of my role is inspiring and mentoring the next generation of architects in the laboratory planning discipline. 

Q: How will previous experiences help you in your new role at LPA Design Studios?

A: Throughout my career, I’ve worked with corporate clients to develop sustainable ground-up research and development facilities in established life science campuses, as well as transform existing retail and office space to laboratories that support emerging life science ecosystems. This experience will help me work with LPA’s clients to create high-performance laboratories that are inspiring, functional and safe. 

Q: In what ways do you hope to grow LPA Design Studio’s work in the life sciences sector? 

A: LPA’s integrated approach provides an incredible opportunity for architects, lab planners and engineers to work collaboratively with laboratory managers and scientists to create spaces that foster innovation. I hope to continue LPA’s growth in this sector by bringing my experience to the firm’s integrated team and provide creative solutions for clients in this rapidly evolving space.

Q: Why is it important for the company to grow in this particular sector?

A: The pandemic has brought to the forefront the importance of research and innovation. Vaccine and therapeutic development to respond to the COVID crisis, as well as increased awareness of the importance of health, have driven increased demand for laboratory space, with new interest in developing life science space in emerging markets outside of the traditional life science clusters.

Supply chain issues in the construction industry mean that building owners increasingly have to make early decisions without knowing exactly who the lab users will be, so adaptability and flexibility in design and design-build partnerships are more relevant than ever.

Q: What specific goals do you have for your role in the next year? In the next five years? 

A: In the next year, my goal is to work with our team to navigate the opportunities and challenges in the current marketplace and develop industry-leading designs that meet client needs.

In addition to continuing to innovate for clients, my long-term goal is to help guide and mentor the next generation of LPA’s lab planners by sharing my knowledge of and passion for laboratory technology and research. 

Q: What challenges, if any, are there associated with designing ground-up life science developments? What about retail/commercial conversions? 

A: The biggest challenge is getting life science facilities built fast enough to meet the high demand. For companies that want to be operational in months rather than years, ground-up often isn’t a feasible option. One common solution is the adaptive reuse of existing office space, which has become available with continued work from home and hybrid work schedules for traditional office workers. In addition to being a more environmentally friendly solution, it shortens the project timeline significantly and allows the end user to move in and start using the space much more quickly.

The conversion of space that was not originally designed for lab space doesn’t come without its own challenges. There are a variety of complex technical considerations involved in upgrading the required infrastructure and adapting less than ideal physical space. Our integrated team is well positioned to find creative solutions to these challenges.

Q: Will LPA be focusing on both types of developments?

A: Yes, LPA focuses on both ground-up and retail/commercial conversions. The best fit depends on the needs, timeline and location of each client. LPA’s breadth of experience allows us to partner with our clients at various stages of development including:

– Master planning life science campuses 

– Ground-up core and shell design

– Leasing support – test-fit potential tenants / clients

– Repositioning of existing assets (conversions)

– Evaluating potential assets for the highest and best use for the right customer

– Tenant improvement fit-outs, expansions and renovations

Q: As one of the major life science hubs in Southern California as well as in the U.S., what is your outlook on San Diego’s life science market? Generally speaking, what predictions do you have for the future of the market? 

A: San Diego is a major cluster at the forefront of the life science market, so there has and will continue to be strong demand for new research and development space, with very tight space availability. California Building Code is unique in that it provides a specific occupancy type ‘L’ for laboratory units, with allowances for hazardous material quantities even on higher floors. In other states that have adopted the International Building Code, the allowances for hazardous materials drop dramatically above the fourth floor. The trend towards automation, miniaturization and computational research means that today’s labs are less dependent on intense chemical and wet lab use and increasingly focused on biologics and data analytics for conducting research.  

These trends provide an avenue to consider non-traditional space such as the adaption of high-rise office buildings into life science facilities, which allows lab spaces to be closer to the research institutions and vibrant urban centers fostering the most innovation. 

Traditionally, people think of laboratories as being a highly technical, sterile space in a dark basement, but today’s companies are looking to give their employees a better working experience, particularly in industry-leading markets such as San Diego. Creating a comfortable environment is an important part of promoting the creativity and collaboration needed for innovation. With the long hours that are often necessary in the life science space, promoting health and wellness through design is another important trend to attract and retain talent in a competitive market. 

Q: Is there anything else you think is important to highlight that I haven’t already asked about?

A: Laboratories use five to 10 times more energy per square foot than office buildings, so it’s incredibly important to implement creative solutions to create more sustainable and efficient laboratory spaces.

The building envelope is an important consideration, but there are also many strategies we can use on the lab operations side, working with lab managers and users to evaluate alternative options. For example, it’s important to work with the engineering team and local code officials to understand the type of chemicals being used in the space to evaluate if lower flow fume hoods can be a viable solution.

Using point of use rather than central systems for utilities such as laboratory vacuum and pure water is another opportunity to save energy and reduce maintenance costs. Green chemistry programs, which guide lab users in using chemicals that are less harmful to people and the environment, and recycling programs for laboratory supplies are other important considerations that can be implemented in existing laboratories. Another consideration is whether the lab needs an ultra-low freezer, set to the typical negative 80 degrees, or if the samples can be conserved equally well at negative 70.