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February 28, 2022

Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory Design

Functional, Flexible, and Focused

a lab technician filling test tubes
Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (Photo © Andy Manis)


From feathers to felines or Fido to fins, veterinarians apply passion and compassion to their profession. But not all veterinarians or animal health leaders provide direct patient care. Within this group of veterinary medicine are clinicians, pathologists, and diagnosticians that investigate animal health science through biomedical research and education.

Their role is to empower federal and state animal health officials, Departments of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, agribusiness, laboratory directors, farmers, and veterinarians. They provide the necessary answers to ensure safe, economically viable, and healthy animal populations.

Such in-depth animal studies occur within some of the most technically advanced research buildings you can imagine—Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratories (VDLs).

Rendering of Iowa State University
Iowa State University VDL Rendering, Northeast Entry


Think beyond just household pets and consider animal health on a much larger scale. To protect our ecosystem, a spectrum of veterinary professionals aligns to combat and counteract animal disease. Whether it’s wilderness wildlife, zoo species, or agricultural animals, VDL diagnosticians and researchers must combine rapidly advancing technology and medicine with their investigative skills.

The goal is to yield consistently rapid, accurate, and actionable test results and their resulting implications. Their work helps create the safest and most effective practices in veterinary medicine. From prevention to treatment, veterinary diagnosticians understand that knowledge without know-how takes you nowhere.

Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory


For animal health leaders to achieve the most accurate data and productivity levels, they require an intelligent built environment designed to anticipate their every need. Diagnosticians, researchers, and educators require a VDL facility that:

  • Excels at research, safeguards test sample integrity, and keeps samples clean and carefully isolated.
  • Is every bit as responsive and resourceful as diagnosticians and researchers themselves, regardless of test scope, volume, or process.
  • Adapts to growing performance expectations and responsibilities.

In a nutshell, VDLs must have the ability to meet every challenge head-on. Quality facility design will strengthen performance with each challenge. How? With a facility that was designed right from the beginning with agility and Quality Management Systems (QMS). These are buildings where collaborative teams require reconfigurable and specialized labs, as process flows transform and evolve. They must be poised for performance from Day One.

Iowa State University VDL, Necropsy Fly-Through


Veterinary diagnostic labs are distinctive, each serving different purposes. Their caseloads, test volumes, or research capacities vary from lab to lab. So do their respective missions. Some VDLs are housed with a veterinarian school and require learning labs, lecture spaces, or libraries– either onsite or virtually connected across campus.

Many VDLs are also species-dominant, primarily based upon regional animal populations. For example, in Iowa it’s swine. In Wisconsin, you have a concentration of dairy cattle, while Kentucky has an equine focus. VDL’s will individually align their resources–human, financial, technical, and building stock—in support of these regional agri-economies. Their sample receiving protocols, processing, pathology, bacteriology, necropsy, and histopathology are based upon their states or region’s predominant animal requirements.

a render of a lab
Rendering, Iowa State University VDL, Necropsy Sectional
a lab technician working
Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory Diagnostician


While all VDLs are indeed unique, they do share specific design elements:

  • Biosafety, biocontainment, and flexible building systems are paramount to VDL lab design.
  • VDL’s desire building designs that meet accreditation and education requirements in support of Quality Management Systems (QMS). This is based upon the ISO 9000 family developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
  • Most VDLs consume copious amounts of energy. Designing and updating VDLs with minimal life-cycle energy costs can reduce negative environmental consequences and operating costs.
  • Although animal-focused, VDLs should be built around “human-centered design.”
    • This means facilities that are physically/ergonomically healthy, safe, comfortable, and productive for occupants and visitors.
    • These spaces should also invite interdisciplinary and international collaboration and communication. Human-centered designs might also include public “tour-centered” spaces where their community can gain a wider appreciation and understanding of a VDL’s mission and services. Dedicated teaching spaces for colleagues or students to participate in labs or learning are also part of designing for a VDL’s user.
a graphic about vector born diseases
Source: One Health


Animal health science leaders must maintain an international perspective. After all, animal illness does not recognize borders.

Animal diseases can sweep across entire continents with devastating consequences for human health, food safety, or natural resources. This is precisely why VDLs need designed-in, adaptable technology infrastructures that provide ready access to a global network of information.

Today’s diagnosticians need to turn to colleagues from across the world just as easily as across the hall. Therefore, building and lighting designs along with entire electrical engineering plans must offer total accessibility to any meeting experience. This means including integrated voice, data, security, 4K video-ready, whiteboard cameras(s), AV hardware, low voltage, aligned software, and support space.

These same diagnosticians will also turn towards One Health, an initiative from within the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. One Health is, in their words,

“An approach that recognizes that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment. One Health is not new, but it has become more important in recent years. This is because many factors have changed interactions between people, animals, plants, and our environment.”

Most every VDL and animal health researcher or educator that we know supports the mission of One Health. As VDL designers, we keep a One Health mindset top-of-mind when designing both new and renovated facilities.

a graphic about one health
Source: One Health


Like the science, technology, and higher education buildings that we design, veterinary diagnostic laboratories need to balance multiple user groups, including scientists, researchers, faculty, students, and staff.

From a facility design and functionality perspective, Strang applies a project development process that addresses the pitfalls of juggling the needs of many. This process captures and applies client visions, strengthens the operating performance of a VDL’s engineered systems, and fully integrates interior layouts with design.

Within Strang, this process is called, Design Synchronicity. In practice, Design Synchronicity brings together our most experienced architects, engineers, and interior designers to advance the client’s vision. This approach yields dependable decision-support metrics designed to conserve VDL resources: human, financial, and environmental. This includes design, construction, and long-term operational resources.

Design Synchronicity helps ensure that complex building systems found in VDL’s not only function together, but also make each other stronger. A building’s lifelines are often unseen–above the ceiling tiles, below the floors, or behind the walls. Strang’s engineers understand the importance of conserving energy and providing safe, comfortable, and productive spaces. Imagine, a building that performs equal to its design beauty. That’s our approach to designing veterinary diagnostic labs. That’s Design Synchronicity.

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