Maximizing the Floor Plate

IMMERSE Cambridge: A Waters Innovation & Research Lab
Cambridge, MA

Waters Corporation is the world’s leading manufacturer of liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry systems, supplies, and laboratory informatics software. The long-time SMMA client was in need of a modern facility to serve as a flagship sales and research hub to appeal to their biotech and pharmaceutical customer base.

With their headquarters located more than 30 miles outside of the city, they opted to situate themselves in the heart of Kendall Square, an area best known for its entrepreneurial spirit and the mass of science and technology companies that call the Kendall neighborhood “home.”  

Flexibility and re-configurability are the hallmarks of the new IMMERSE Cambridge: Waters Innovation & Research Lab Cambridge, influencing all aspects of design allowing our team to fully leverage and integrate members from across disciplines in the firm. This new facility was designed to be unlike any of Waters’ other spaces across the globe, boasting a range of space typologies, including demonstration areas, fully-functional labs, open office and research space, plus a cafe. Such breadth and variety are intended to inspire innovation, showcase the work of the company, connect with current and potential clients, while also attracting a new wave of talent to join the company on their mission to develop new state-of-the-art technologies. 

In Good Company

In 2011, Waters commissioned SMMA to redesign their Massachusetts headquarters as they faced an acute space shortage due to significant growth and desires for further expansion. Nearly a decade later, the company is in the midst of shifting their business model on a global scale. As part of this effort, they recognized that the location of the headquarters was not optimal for engaging with their customers or appealing to a new generation of researchers and scientists. Kendall Square was a natural fit for Immerse Cambridge, given its proximity to famed institutions such as MIT and Harvard, as well as notable life science companies, like Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Biogen, and Takeda. Such juxtaposition will allow greater opportunity for in-person communications and collaboration, thus changing how Waters interacts with their customer base and how their customers experiences them.

Map showing location of Waters Cambridge Immerse lab near other life science firms
Animation showing Flexible Partitions at Waters Cambridge Innovation Hub

Small Footprint, Big Impact

With the program requiring greater square footage than the floor plan permitted, the team was pushed to think outside of the box to conceive a space that still met all the client’s needs. 

To maximize the floorplan for greatest usage, the proposed strategy called for the incorporation of easily-operable glass panels that serve as flexible partitions. The panels can be opened or closed to reconfigure the space to accommodate different needs and groups. The design allows for the space to be fully open for large forums and events, or broken down into a mix of smaller spaces, conducive to client meetings, smaller coactive efforts, and independent research and coworking. The resulting design is immensely flexible, promotes collaboration, and instills a sense of excitement among visitors.

Waters Cambridge Flexibility with Glass Partitions Axon

Creating Continuity

Instilling a sense of unity between the labs and office space was essential to creating a cohesive identity for Immerse. With a small footprint, adding moments of transparency and continuous design elements helped to make the space feel expansive and less stifled. SMMA’s Interior Designers and Lab Architects worked closely to develop a single palette that worked for material selections despite having very different needs. 

Employee walking through corridor at Waters Cambridge innovation center
Large Lab Space at Waters IMMERSE Cambridge Lab Innovation Center

A  full height glass front on the lab, creates a separation from the office area while providing transparency and putting scientific discovery on display. With an exposed ceiling in the lab and an acoustic ceiling tile in the open office, light fixtures were suspended and surface mounted to look as though it is continuous from one space into the other, as if it were piercing the glass wall. This creates the illusion of one open area. The design also incorporates wood slats at the entry which draws your eye into the space. There is a blue accent slat that serves as a continuous feature that starts at the point of entry, and brings you through the meeting rooms and into the lab. This element helps to create flow, keeping the whole space continuous and unified.

To further this idea of transparency, the façade includes glass paneling to permit visibility to passerby’s, showcasing Waters’ innovative work. 


The client made it clear that the newly renovated space should be designed as sustainably as possible. While not designed for LEED certification, the team worked in close collaboration with our partners at Interface and Commodore Builders to select materials that were eco-friendly. This included using alternatives to typical drywall and ceiling materials. As well, the design called for the reuse of the original carpeting. Through our partnership with Interface, we were able to participate in their recycling kickback program, which allowed us to recycle leftover materials and upcycle from those that were previously salvaged. Commodore reported that 82.38% of materials were recycled from demolition. 

Engineered for Success

The new Immerse Cambridge Research and Innovation Lab offered the opportunity to demonstrate the firm’s integrated design capabilities and prowess. Despite the original space being a lab building, it was lacking the necessary infrastructure and systems to support Waters’ needs, calling for significant planning and coordination between SMMA’s engineers, architects, and interior designers. The developer for the building, BioMed Realty, requires that the system design function in alignment with the rest of the building and tenants, ultimately creating a simultaneously separate but connected project. As a result, the system design drives the overall concept for the building. 

Immerse is situated on the first floor of a six-story building, comprising just 5% of the building’s 100,000 SF floorplate. SMMA’s engineers helped Waters see a path forward in a strategic way to realize the most beneficial space. To create this fully-functional, flexible lab space, the MEP team had to re-design many systems, from plumbing to HVAC to electrical, and had to convert what would have been a fixed standard into a flexible standard. Where before, the HVAC engineer had a spreadsheet with PVC in the wall, now there is a system that includes point exhaust in an exposed ceiling with a flex duct. This results in heat extraction to vacuum pumps and moveable case work. As well, the plumbing engineers have quick disconnects and flexible hoses for all the gases that are required.