The Architect’s Point of View
Best practices for cleanroom design.
Robert Rice, RA
CRB The design of a cleanroom should be a well-orches- trated collaboration of many disciplines to create a product-specific functional space. As one disci- pline, we, as architects, are trained to look beyond
the technical requirements and consider the aesthetic and
human element of all spaces, including the cleanroom.
We attempt to blend these functional, aesthetic, and
humanity considerations into cleanroom design.
In the last century, an influential French architect
named Le Corbusier published a somewhat radi-
cal manifesto in his 1923 book Vers Une Architecture
(Towards a New Architecture). He wrote “a house is a
machine for living in.” Throughout my architectural
career (which has included the design of many clean-
rooms), the idea has resonated with me, though I
have paraphrased in my mind to say “a cleanroom is a
With that in mind, designing cleanrooms requires
both architects and engineers to recognize that they
are a complex means of production – often resembling
a living, breathing, growing organism more than a
machine. This is partly because cleanrooms are con-
stantly changing. Sometimes the changes are minor
(e.g. tweaking the airflow); other changes are more
robust (e.g. making spatial modifications, replacing
the air handler, process equipment, or the product). If
executed with care, both minor and major changes can
enhance the room’s productivity.
Knowing the ever changing nature of cleanrooms,
designing for flexibility becomes the key to long-term
return on the investment of a clean space. Even though
the user requirements of these spaces can be multifac-
eted and pose unique challenges to a designer, there are
simple design considerations that we, as architects, can
use when assisting our clients to achieve the best oper-
ating outcomes in such a space.
Do you really “need” a cleanroom?
A cleanroom or suite of cleanrooms is, hands-down,
the most expensive space to build and operate in a
facility, so deciding to build one is not a decision to be
taken lightly. Once operational, it should run as reliably
and consistently as possible; when it’s not operating,
your business isn’t making money. Appropriate design
to address these concerns is crucial to minimize facility
downtime and maximize optimal operations.
The first thing we, as architects, can help our clients
understand is whether or not a cleanroom is truly a
requirement for their facility. Beyond the technical or
product/personnel safety interest of providing a cleanroom, there are often other, softer reasons that a client
may say they want a clean space. In my past experience,
I’ve had clients request cleanroom environments for the
sake of elevating the comfort level of their clients who
may be touring the facility. Requests have even been
made similar to this: “We want the material, finishes,
and look of a cleanroom, but we aren’t going to certify
or validate it.” These can all be valid reasons to design a
clean space – sometimes, perception is reality. But the
question still remains concerning the regulatory, functional, or technical necessity of a cleanroom.
There are also wide swings in the eye of the beholder of what constitutes a cleanroom in the first place.
We have all been in facilities that rely on an inordinate
amount of Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE) and
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and operate
without much infrastructure to support the requirements of clean spaces. Other buildings with more
sophisticated operations typically do not rely as much
on these precaution protocols.
Client opinions are just as varied as their appetites for cleanroom design. It’s important to bring
to the drawing board all facility stakeholders during
the programming phase of a project; Management,
Quality Compliance and Assurance, EHS, Engineering,
Maintenance and Operations should all be involved to
add their input and ensure their needs are addressed.
Several of my facility design colleagues have spent
years working to precisely understand the regulatory
Plant extraction bio-processing space.
Courtesy of CRB.