AstraZeneca Reinvents Lab Design with New Headquarters in South San Francisco

Bay Area, AstraZeneca, The Cove, Oyster Point Life Sciences Park, San Francisco, HOK, San Francisco Bay
Image courtesy of HOK

By Meghan Hall

Bay Area companies are known to push the boundaries of office design, but in the life sciences sector, laboratory design has largely lagged behind. When AstraZeneca moved into its new headquarters at The Cove at Oyster Point Life Sciences Park in South San Francisco, the biopharmaceutical company challenged architecture and design firm HOK to help them to break free of the usual white walls and fluorescent lights that dominate traditional labs and create more innovative spaces filled with the bright colors and warm materials so often found in today’s modern corporate technology office spaces.

“AstraZeneca did not want to get a white box laboratory,” said Daniel Herriott, a principal designer at HOK, of AstraZeneca’s strong desire to reinvent the basic concepts of laboratory design. “We challenged ourselves to rethink the laboratory formality that’s formed over generations. They’re on the leading edge [of laboratory design], and they’ve set a new benchmark.”

Using a theme the AstraZeneca and design team called “science on display,” the project team sought to break down the traditional barriers that separate laboratories from the rest of the company’s conventional office spaces.The project was a large one; AstraZeneca’s headquarters is 105,000 square feet spread over four stories. Herriott emphasized that the themes of openness and transparency were made apparent as soon as guests stepped through the door.

From AstraZeneca’s reception area, guests and employees can see clear into bowels of the laboratory, where the main piece on display is an oversized turbine used to separate dry matter and create medication for diseases like asthma in powdered form. Visitors and employees in the reception area are able to view live work in the lab; only a glass wall separates the spaces.

Image courtesy of HOK

Designing the interior of the lab spaces themselves was not without its challenges, according to Herriott, due to the strict requirements that typically govern the materials architects and clients can use. However, Herriott said AstraZeneca wanted to utilize many of the concepts that make-up modern day corporate office design.

“They’re the most homey feeling labs I’ve ever seen in my career,” said Herriott. “You’ll see what we did for the first time ever was reimagine what goes on in the lab, so we can help them with their efficiencies.”

The labs have dropped ceilings and light fixtures that stray from traditional lab-based architecture.

“We worked with AstraZeneca on what story they should tell, and how that would influence the nomenclature of the rooms,” explained Herriott.

Vibrantly colored wall graphics in the shape of local plants used in the medical industry were added to the walls, while materials that replicate a wood-like effect are incorporated into the laboratories’ work benches.

Herriott continued, “They really wanted to celebrate the region they’re in, so we looked at natural plant life and vegetation that was regionally appropriate and medicinally-based.”

The design also incorporated collaboration spaces within the gateway areas where lab workers put on and take off their gear in order to increase workplace functionality and efficiency. The spaces are complete with a variety of whiteboards, computers, hubs and televisions to help AstraZeneca’s researchers and scientists write up reports and document their findings.

AstraZeneca’s “science on display” theme was incorporated throughout the remainder of their headquarters, even in parts of the building that are anchored by traditional office space.

“This is a global company that knows what they’re doing, and you can see they value their employees with the gift they’ve given them of this space,” said Herriott.

There are a variety of different breakout spaces on each floor with a number of amenities ranging from coffee machines to treadmill desks to board and arcade games. The second floor breakout space has glass walls behind which another visibly open lab is located. On the other side of the room is an additional window that looks through one of AstraZeneca’s office spaces and then out onto the San Francisco Bay.

The main office space is open; each employee has an assigned desk, but according to Herriott, no cluster exceeds four desks, and no “neighborhood” exceeds 32 workstations. Huddle rooms and phone booths provide niche spaces for employees to slip away, while Kuando lights on each desk will glow when an employee wishes not to be disturbed.

“The groups aren’t big enough to become a silo or for territorialism to happen,” said Herriot. “We did everything that we could to promote the privacy and focus of the actual open workspace by strategically planning active spaces and then adding these other small details to the story that promote everyone’s need for concentration time.”

Herriott attributes the success of the space to the close nature of the team.

“The product was only the result of a good, engaged relationship between the client, the design team and the construction team,” said Herriott of the design team’s efforts to create a successful space. “All three entities showed a tremendous amount of good attitude. We’re all very proud of it.”