In recent years, following the new organizational needs of enterprises, R&D centers have witnessed radical changes from a design and architectural point of view. In particular, R&D buildings have transformed from closed and isolated lab units into more open spaces which allow different teams to communicate better and improve their performance.

During our recent Expert Talk, Daniel Heusser and Andrea Bergonzini from VIRTUARCH and Magnus Willers and Kamil Szostek from WILLERS, discussed the recent trends in building R&D centers.


What big changes have you seen in recent years in terms of space optimization of R&D facilities?


Today more than ever, flexibility is in high demand among R&D facilities. The general layout is becoming a more open, plug-and-play type of space allocation. Also, a lot of trans-group space optimization allows different teams of the same company to share infrastructure and spaces. Therefore, the MEP design as well as the lab design need to take into consideration a wide range of technical requirements to be applied in the same space.

ETH Zurich Teaching Lab, Zurich


It is exactly how we worked for the ‘One Clariant Campus’ (OCC) in Shanghai for which we were in charge of the entire change management of transforming from a rented facility to a built-to-suit Headquarter and R&D Center. We collected design requirements, optimized layouts in collaboration with the teams of the client and designed the Interiors of the campus project. We held workshop meetings and had long conversations with the client about how to make this R&D facility fit for teamwork. Therefore, the concept chosen was to allocate generous open space offices interlinked over three floors in the center of the R&D building, with windows towards the different chemical labs located at the facades of the R&D building. The central open zone is not only an office workspace but is designed as a communication space that includes meeting rooms, brainstorming areas, and coffee areas, so to create a certain community feeling.

Main atrium of R&D wing of the Clariant OCC Campus in Shanghai

Facade of the Clariant OCC Campus in Shanghai

The common area of the Clariant OCC Campus in Shanghai

The circular meeting room of the Clariant OCC Campus in Shanghai


What are the challenges in terms of high-tech requirements when building R&D projects?


Firstly, understanding the real needs of the client is extremely crucial in order to know the technical requirements that we will need to take into consideration for the project. Secondly, the increased flexibility of MEP systems has also been a major challenge in recent years. For this reason, we often recommend our clients to use modular MEP systems, so that they can freely choose how to use the lab space according to their actual needs. This solution is particularly helpful when the different labs in the building are rented by third parties. Apart from this, also the performance of the MEP systems in terms of environmental sustainability represents an important challenge that all enterprises are trying to keep on their agenda.

Sitem-Insel Research Center, Bern, Switzerland

Facade of Sitem-Insel Research Center, Bern, Switzerland


We have mentioned that the co-use of labs by different teams or even enterprises has become a major trend recently. From your experience, how the space is changing to adapt to the new organizational needs of the companies?


In general, the trend we can see in Europe and Switzerland is that spaces are becoming much more horizontal and flexible in terms of use. People do not go to the labs anymore to work 8 or 12 hours a day and then go back home and relax to be back the next day. Nowadays people are encouraged to be more communicative and have cross-cooperation with their colleagues in different labs or departments. This leads to the need to have spaces in the company where people can not only do the usual office work but can also gather, whether occasionally or for a formal meeting, in communication zones including meeting areas where exchanging ideas is facilitated. What better place than doing that over a cup of coffee in a brainstorming area? These more open, more flexible, and more dynamic spaces are extremely helpful for the employees to feel part of a community and to perform better.

Firmenich Creative Lab in Seoul

Office Area of Firmenich Creative Lab in Seoul

Lounge of Firmenich Creative Lab in Seoul


Are these trends developing also among Chinese companies which traditionally are more hierarchical?


Yes, that’s what we can see among our clients. Increasingly often Chinese clients are asking us to design their labs as more open and cozy spaces. This is the case, for instance, of the project we realized last year for Imeik Lab Building in Beijing and also in what we have on our drawing boards for their new Headquarter and R&D Center project. The lab building is developed over five floors, each with a specific function that is represented by the use of a different color for each floor, and it has open space offices allocated close to the labs. Indeed, this kind of space allocation and design is much more elaborated compared to how a lab in China would have looked just five years ago. One of the drivers of this development is the need to attract talent. Another one is the increased need for more dynamic innovation and interaction between experts from different fields and backgrounds.

Lab of Imeik R&D Center in Beijing

The new, massive 80,000 square meter project for Imeik also focuses on ‘fit for purpose’. Each building has its specific typology, the main Headquarter and R&D Center building stands out with its representative façade and its nicely illuminated main atrium. The dynamic and lively design of this building reflects exactly the need of the client not to have only labs for their employees to work, but also areas in which they can exchange ideas and relax, alongside spaces for welcoming visitors and a state-of-the-art customer center with an auditorium and showroom. In this way, each floor with its own peculiarity is able to give a distinctive vibe to the whole building and an impressive experience for the visitors.

The informal meeting area


In the process of communication with the client, how do you manage to translate their need for flexibility into shared labs?


Recently, we are more and more often confronted with the paradigm of what “fit for purpose” means for the client. Considering that R&D facilities need to host a wide range of room typologies, from purely functional to more industrial with important high-tech requirements, it is of absolute importance that the client and the design team spend enough time reflecting on the purpose of each space.

As we did in one of our recent projects in the Basel area, our work usually takes off with the collection of requirements from all the different lab teams as a way to fully understand their needs. Afterward, in order to be able to translate these needs into room typologies and realize trans-group space optimization, we guide the client in reasoning on what MEP infrastructures can be shared across different teams in order to optimize the space and we recommend different solutions that fit their needs best.


To conclude, we can say that in recent years R&D spaces have transformed into more dynamic and open spaces which allow employees of different expertise and teams to communicate better and in a less formal way. From a design point of view, implementing space optimization and flexibility requires not only a clear understanding of the client’s needs but also the capability of guiding the clients through the right optimization of spaces. 

Brainstorming area of DiaSorin in Bresso, Milano, Italy: Open space offices

Thanks to Magnus and Kamil of WILLERS for participating in this expert talk. Together with you as our partners, we can make sure that even complex R&D projects perfectly fit the purpose of our clients and are state-of-the-art also in terms of MEP design.


VIRTUARCH is an architecture and project management company with offices in Switzerland, China and Thailand, specialized in workplaces (Industrial Buildings, R&D Facilities, Offices and Headquarter Buildings), as well as in the field of education (Kindergartens, Schools, Universities, Vocational Training Centers, Adult Education). VIRTUARCH has successfully realized more than 500 projects in Europe and Asia for clients such as Multinational Corporations, but also for Small and Medium-Sized Companies, often being Market Leaders in their fields and Hidden Champions.


Willers is an international engineering company for high-tech buildings and infrastructure with offices in Switzerland, Wroclaw (Poland) and China. Willers supports complex building and infrastructural projects on the cutting edge of technological development. With interdisciplinary and industry-specific teams, the company keeps its finger on the pulse in its core areas Life Sciences, Healthcare, Workspace, Data Center, Energy Hub and Airport, while strengthening its commitment to sustainability. As a family business (established in 1989), Willers thinks across generations – in its relationships and its solutions. 

Scroll to Top