Laboratory Case Study: Part Of The Neighborhood

By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the July 2006 issue of Facility Executive

When Avon Products Inc. began considering a new location for its expanding research and development (R&D) staff in 2002, renovating the existing facility was a first consideration. Manufacturing operations were being moved to one of the company’s plants in Ohio, which would clear the way for R&D to grow. However, management first needed to consider a few challenges of the existing site in the Village of Suffern in the town of Ramapo, NY.

The company had been located on the site since 1895 when the company’s founder, David McConnell, built a manufacturing facility there. Two years later, an R&D facility was added to the building, and multiple construction projects had since resulted in a mix of structures not conducive to streamlined operations.

“Even after we made the decision to move manufacturing operations to Ohio, we realized the existing facility was not the ideal location,” recalls Chris Schaffert, director of project engineering for Avon. “Renovations would be extensive, and it would be very disruptive to our people. At the end of the day, we would not achieve the optimum workflow and layout we desired.”

Avon began to look at other options for the expansion and hired architectural and engineering firm HLW International LLP of New York City for the project. The firm evaluated two different sites and considered what each would entail. One option was to construct a new building on a different property, and the other possibility was to move into an existing facility and customize it to Avon’s needs. After lengthy discussion on the merits of all options, it was decided that Avon would stay on its current 11-acre site and approach it with a new strategy.

“We were looking at the different sites and finally determined R&D operations could fit on the existing real estate if we tore down the old building,” Schaffert explains. “We commissioned HLW to conduct a study based on that scenario, which we then presented to the Board of Directors who approved the plan. It was a win-win for Avon and a win-win for the Village of Suffern. We had been here for more than 100 years, and we were good neighbors.”

Shortly afterwards, Avon hired Skanska USA Building, Inc. of Parsippany, NJ as construction manager. “We started working with the design team in December 2002 in a pre-construction effort to help control costs and make informed decisions,” says Peter Monte, project director from Skanska. “We supported the team with schedule and cost information and put logistics together in order to execute construction.”

Monte acknowledges the challenge of constructing the building next to Avon’s existing facility, which remained in operation during construction. Another challenge was overseeing the project in the midst of what is largely a residential neighborhood.

“The new building was only 40′ away from the existing building,” he says. “Also, we were working in the midst of the Village of Suffern which is not accustomed to this scale or volume of construction traffic. So it was a tough assignment in those respects.”

The Vision

With the opportunity to design the facility from the ground up, Avon wanted the building to convey its high tech operations while also highlighting its mission of providing cosmetic and personal care products for women. “That was certainly one of the first charges we had when meeting with Chairman and CEO Andrea Jung and her executive team to talk about a concept for the building,” says Philip Fishel, project manager from HLW. “A balance needed to be drawn between the functionality and the practicality of the laboratory spaces and the remainder of the building.”

This stairwell leads up to an open area designed for informal collaboration between employees.

Says Schaffert, “We were looking for a design to reflect the high tech focus of the work done here, but on the other side of the coin, it had to be feminine in its approach.”

As a result, the exterior design of the building included several elements geared toward the marriage of high tech and feminine. The glass and steel structure, meant to be indicative of the technological aspect of Avon, was complemented by an undulating glass canopy over the walkway to the main entrance.

“It’s a signature piece of the feminine side of the building,” says Fishel. “It’s very different from the rest of the building exterior, and it is meant to soften the image. There is also a water pool underneath the canopy, which adds to that softness.”

The canopy, which is continued above the rear entryway of the building, was constructed of laminated glass to withstand the elements. “It’s a very strong structure,” notes Schaffert. “We’ve had some snow loads on there and some very high winds, and it has performed very well.”

In the interior, curvilinear seating in some of the common areas and floral artwork are just a few of the ways femininity was introduced to the building. Says Monte, “I’ve built several research facilities, and the distinct aspects of this project for me included the common areas in the building and the attention to detail in the material selection. In addition to being a functional research facility, this building showcases the company and its products. To see a client invest significantly in finishes, millwork, and granite flooring in the common spaces brought the building from utilitarian to distinct.”

The Winning Formula

Charged with the task of constructing a facility that would both foster scientific research and showcase Avon’s image, the team set to work. The final design consisted of two three-story structures linked by a common area. About 60% of the 225,000 square feet is dedicated to the R&D laboratories, with the remaining space occupied by offices, a cafeteria, conference rooms, and common areas created specifically for employee collaboration.

The laboratory spaces in the new Avon facility occupy about 60% of the square footage in the building. In order to ensure that researchers would have an optimum place in which to work, the project management team built mock-ups of lab benches to test during the design phase. Photo by Peter Paige.

From the outset, common spaces to foster impromptu interaction were important to Avon. In addition to two traditional conference rooms adjacent to the main lobby, a less formal conference room on the third floor was designed specifically for brainstorming activities.

Notes Fishel, “As much emphasis was placed on the quality of the spaces outside the laboratory as on the inside. We worked to design spaces that helped promote creativity and brainstorming. And then, we worked with Skanska to turn those ideas into built form.”

Schaffert elaborates on this: “We installed coffee bars on the second and third floors to draw people out of their offices. We have a number of spaces for informal meetings. HLW provided us with some ideas of how we could make the spaces foster collaboration. For instance, there is an area on the third floor, at the top of a stairwell, where we installed a cork wall. Researchers can pin ideas up there; there’s also a whiteboard for brainstorming. The cafeteria is another space which draws people together. We didn’t have that in the old building.”

Skanksa had the role of procurement for the project, which was administered largely in a competitive bidding process. “We coordinated with HLW,” says Monte. “The firm packaged the construction documents accordingly and issued them over a timeline that supported our procurement efforts.”

Working closely with the Skanska team, HLW played a central role in selecting products for the interior spaces. By collaborating with Avon, HLW worked to ensure the needs of the organization would be met.

Fishel mentions lighting and furniture as two areas requiring special attention: “We presented different lighting designs for the laboratories to the Avon team members so they would understand how the lighting would operate. We also needed to test physical conditions before we made any decisions on the actual lighting design approach. There was close collaboration between our design group and Avon in that way.”

To ensure the laboratory spaces would accommodate the scientists’ work there, the team created mock-ups of lab benches before finalizing the designs. Ceiling materials and lighting systems for those spaces were also included in the process.

“The mock-ups prevented us from making potentially serious mistakes which could have been very expensive,” Schaffert explains. “Also, there is a lot of color matching done in the labs for our products, so lighting was very important.”

Employees working outside of the laboratories were also consulted on their future workspaces. “We did mock-ups for all the office furniture as well,” says Schaffert. “People would sit at the workstation and tell us what they liked and didn’t like. It was very interactive. Skanska built the mock-up; then HLW helped us review and modify it if needed. Skanska would rebuild it and we’d test it. It was an elaborate process, but it certainly paid off in the end.”

Space planning was another crucial aspect of the project. The activities occurring in individual laboratories, as well as between different research teams, dictated much of the configuration. For instance, the laboratories in which color matching would be performed needed to have northern exposure in order to have access to natural light.

Additionally, interdependencies between researchers in laboratories and other personnel in the building were also important considerations. “We wanted to be sure the layout was synergistic,” says Schaffert. “We wanted to place people where it would add value to operations.”

Making The Move

When the building was ready in March 2005 for the 280 employees to move in, time was of the essence. “We had set a goal that no Avon associate would be out of commission for more than three days,” says Schaffert. “At first blush, it can seem pretty simple. We would take everything in the old building and move it 40′ across the parking lot.”

This new R&D facility from the ground up marks the beginning of a new chapter in Avon’s history. Photo courtesy of Skanska USA Building Inc.

But as any facility professional who has coordinated a move knows, it’s certainly not a simple task. To address this, it was decided early on in the contract process that Skanska would help execute the move; this involved hiring a move consultant and moving company.

“Skanska managed the whole thing,” recalls Schaffert. “But largely, we had to dictate the sequence of how it would work. The interdependencies of the laboratories meant we could not pick just any space and move it, because it would have an impact on other operations. For instance, if we moved our central stores, certain laboratories wouldn’t have raw materials to work with.”

Another crucial piece in the move was the transfer of the pilot plant (the area where test product batches are created). This plant had to be moved in several phases so operations could be moved completely before proceeding to the next phase.

“That also meant utilities had to be designed in phases,” explains Schaffert. “Control systems for each piece of equipment had to be designed that way. For instance, if two pieces of equipment were sharing a utility in the old building, HLW had to provide a utility in the new building that would support the first item moved in and then be able to hook up to the second item when that was moved in.”

Home Again, Home Again

Six months later, the new R&D building was proving to be a boon to productivity at Avon. “I think you’d find that most of our associates love the new building,” says Schaffert. “They like the open, airy feel of the labs. They enjoy the informal, collaborative spaces. And the building has really enhanced Avon’s image in attracting new associates.”

“I’m very proud of the building and what we all achieved,” says Monte. “Also, it’s important to note that the project came in under budget and on schedule.”

Reflecting on the role of his firm in the project, Fishel says, “HLW was called upon to use every one of its disciplines. We were responsible for all of the architecture and engineering as well as managing all the sub-consultants who came on. On one hand, it was quite a daunting task, but it enabled us to maintain control of the building concept throughout the entire process.”

The facility has also reinforced Avon’s ties to the community. Christopher St. Lawrence, Town of Ramapo supervisor, visited the site at regular intervals during construction. St. Lawrence is pleased with what the town has gained.

“As you drive into the Village of Suffern,” he says, “everyone is delighted that they now can see the beautiful mountains along with Avon’s new, architecturally stunning R&D building. It is a great reflection of Avon’s continued economic strength and empowerment of our community.”

Schaffert echoes the sentiment: “Avon is proud of the new building, including the fact that it fits seamlessly into the village landscape.” The future looks bright for Avon’s R&D operations in its new home.

This article was based on an interview with Fishel (, Monte (, and Schaffert (