Accelerating Science: A New Era of Discovery

SmartLabs at 21 Erie Street
Cambridge, MA

Located at the center of Cambridge’s global biotech and technology hub, nestled next to notable Life Science institutions like MIT and Harvard University, stands a seemingly unadorned two-story brick building referred to simply as 21 Erie Street. Inside, however, the building boasts a much more vivid story – one of a beautiful, modern transformation from its ageing frame to 52,000 sf of state-of-the-art flexible laboratory and office space.

The brains behind the powerful transformation, SmartLabs, collaborated with SMMA to create not just any kind of research environment, but one providing flexible infrastructure as a service: it can accommodate members of all sizes and disciplines. No longer do its members need to worry about the technicalities involved when looking for research space. Once inside, not much remains of the old structure except for a singular wall of exposed brick located beside the main staircase. This remnant of the building’s former life represents the foundation for a new discovery generation.

Future-Driven Scalability

Early on in 21 Erie Street’s renovation, SmartLabs partnered with DIRTT, office furniture and laboratory bench and equipment providers known for making universal, demountable components. This partnership ensured that each lab space could be easily modified and customized to support a vast array of future members.

The concept is simple: members can rent everything from a single lab bench to a full laboratory with office space. Not only can these members have a lab space that was initially set up to be a single bay wide, or perhaps two or three bays wide, but they can also reposition wall components and furniture to expand or contract entire work areas based on the needs of their science.

To enhance the value in this concept of flexibility, Erie Street also had to ensure the scalability of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing design. Thus, SmartLabs and the design team implemented guidelines, accounting for things such as the expansion of the number of fume hoods and the conversion of the tissue culture spaces into other uses. Plumbing rack PAMs, or “Pre-Assembled Modules,” were assembled off-site to enhance the quality, schedule, and coordination of the project. The teams also incorporated a low-voltage, flexible, wirelessly programmable, modular, and powerful LED lighting system magnetically attached to the ceiling grid. This enables multi-directional lighting and lab flexibility by utilizing a generic 24” length that can be relocated with exceptional ease, and without the need of an electrical contractor.

Reviving the Neighborhood

Converting the existing 21 Erie Street into a cutting-edge facility provided a challenge: With the existing structure utilizing a variety of structural systems and construction methods (common in old Cambridge buildings), the laboratory planning had to transform the seemingly random existing conditions into a modular, scalable, and flexible design. Since some of the existing column spacing was as tight as 10’-0” apart, the planning had to prioritize which program elements were the most suitable for various areas of the building. By focusing on the ceiling plane as the primary avenue for the delivery of utilities, the team was able to make sense of the antiquated infrastructure.

Specialty Spaces

Erie Street’s program incorporates core laboratory functions and shared specialty spaces, including a fully functioning 3,000 sf vivarium managed by regionally recognized experts at Charles River Labs. To meet Charles River Labs’ criteria on top of SmartLabs' criteria, SMMA created the vivarium fully equipped with holding areas, proper ventilation, sanitation provisions, disposable self-contained cages and racks for the research animals, and additional spaces for necropsies.

The second floor houses a unique type of scalable “Bench On-Demand” offering, which is run through SmartLabs’ Innovation Lab program. Members can rent any section of the lab and share an equipment room and virology lab with the other members. This program provides a scale between the bench and the laboratory, with the provision for multi-flexible “Innovation Suites” as a stepping stone for growth.

Safety Behind the Science

To alleviate the organizational burdens of young companies who need to carefully monitor their resource use, SmartLabs steps in to manage their administrative tasks, including safety. Safety for the researchers, through the monitoring and administration of hazardous materials, deliveries, lab reconfigurations, and waste management, is one of the most valuable services that SmartLabs provides. This type of risk management is essential to the business plans of new companies ill-equipped to deal with the liability of unmonitored conditions.

Walls of Ideas

Between 21 Erie Street’s two floors, you will find spaces fully equipped for all kinds of innovation. Each member, depending on how much space he or she takes, has access to an office component on the same floor. A café serves as a furnished common area where one can enjoy casual conversation and refresh themselves. Shared conference rooms scattered throughout the building create gathering areas for discussion and strategy. A flexible event space allows invited speakers to share their expertise and passions. The DIRTT panels used to construct each environment are covered in IdeaPaint, encouraging scientists to record the next breakthrough at every turn. Every detail within the building is set up to help researchers grow beyond themselves, until they reach the point where they no longer need SmartLabs' bountiful resources.