The Pharmaceutical Architect

How does a Pharmaceutical Architect help your organisation?


The role of a Pharmaceutical Architect is many things. But of all the things a Pharmaceutical Architect can provide for you and your GMP manufacturing facility, communication is arguably the most important.

(Aside from making sure that your black pants match your black shirt and glasses 😉).

Because communication is how a Pharmaceutical Architect helps you understand exactly what it is that you’ll be getting.

That includes having a realistic understanding not only of what the final structure will actually look like, but how it will function for your organisation’s needs.

Verbal and Virtual Communication in a Mixed-Media Architectural Landscape

  • Pharmaceutical project outcomes are highly dependent on the use of:
    • Good communication skills
    • Advanced design technologies
  • Choosing a Pharmaceutical Architect who is well-versed in both verbal and virtual communication skills is generally the best way to ensure you really understand, to the best of anyone’s ‘pre-build’ abilities, what is actually being planned and constructed, and how it meets your needs today and in the future.



GMP Facility Planning & Pharmaceutical Architecture

From sketches to detailed discussions to production line… why communication matters.


Facility designs are extremely important in the pharmaceutical industry because there are many regulatory requirements and production issues to address.

  • The evolution of a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant involves many iterations along the way, often through the development of various algorithms that analyse and optimise the building.
  • A pharmaceutical construction project generally arises from the early ‘napkin sketch’, progresses to a more serious discussion over coffee(s), and continues right through to (say) the first three batches coming off the production line, subsequent storage & distribution of your products, and ultimately, to our collective intent of public health.


So ultimately a pharmaceutical architectural project moves from an early sketch to a facility that will have a potentially significant impact on the health of people.

“That’s why architectural designs, construction planning, and building communications are so important in the world of pharmaceutical manufacturing. The very lives of patients depend on getting this right.”

The Value of an Expert Pharmaceutical Architect

  • Through the crevasse between early conceptions and the final reality of an architectural or construction project, there are typically many iterations along the way.
  • Each of these iterations must demonstrate clearly to the client that the intent meets with expectations.
  • And these iterations require varying stages/formats of communication over time.



At the start of a pharmaceutical facility design project, conversations generally cover things like:

An architect also looks at (e.g.) whether a new building can be a “large isolated building”, with 18 metres separation from the boundaries, to limit the need to provide separate fire compartments and economise construction in terms of construction type (according to the National Construction Code).

  • Early project conversations also revolve around the expected number of full-time employees (FTEs) and will help determine the car parking requirements.
  • A review of the site’s zoning can determine or confirm the suitability of the site (generated from a fundamental understanding of the process requirements).

So these more ‘high level’ considerations then distil down into an understanding of the manufacturing process, functional areas of unit operations are essentially designed to ‘wrap’ the process equipment.

  • So setting up a series of zones – e.g. CNC, ISO-8 at rest etc. and developing up a ‘gradient’ through the building (from dirty to clean, or through a security gradient), that is developed with the pressure cascades.

Later, discussions and documentation will involve the ‘detailed design’ dealing with details such as (e.g.):

  • The penetration of services into the cleanrooms
  • Consideration for the vibration of sensitive equipment
  • Product containment and security controls

The value of taking a ‘project lens’ approach and facility design perspective

When working on a pharmaceutical project with a client, we consider looking at a project through a “lens” – a lens that has a changing aperture as the project matures.

So while we might first look at the project using a ‘bird’s eye view’ of (say) the site, boundary setbacks, building heights, truck movements, parking zones, etc, the project lens can then focus down into the details of, for example, cleanroom finishes and requirements for gowning regimes.

All the while, the project itself is ‘central’ to the process, with the information streams feeding into the central project.




Pharmaceutical Architects, Drawings & Other Communication Methods

In terms of communication throughout this process, an architect has at their discretion the use of innumerous ways of enabling discussions with the client, including for the wider network of stakeholders typically involved in a project:

  • A hand sketch explaining how fall can be used outside a building to shed water away from the building or how a connection between two materials might be resolved.
  • Written and verbal communication explaining the techniques and approaches, often referencing the various codes, regulations and standards applicable to the design.
  • Drawings of increased complexity (with project maturity); which are used to relay the intent of the proposed works to clients and other stakeholders including regulators, costing consultants, and construction professionals.
  • Reference examples, including ‘general arrangements’ documentation from equipment suppliers, samples and previous projects.
  • 3Ds/renderings, panoramas, and ‘walkthroughs’ enable a more three-dimensional ‘real’ understanding of what the spaces will be like, and how they operate.

Communication Scenario (Example)


As an example of the last item here, walk-throughs/videos are invariably helpful for clients to visualise what is being proposed.


“It is an innate skill of architects to visualise (in three dimensions) what is proposed, and it is the responsibility of the architect to share this vision with their client – to help them ‘see what they see’. It is not uncommon that clients (who are expertly skilled in their own fields) are not expert in the reading of 2D drawings, and the 3D presentation can ‘bring to life’ the traditional drawings off the screen. Expectations are managed and innately it is a way to provide clarity, in so much as ‘reducing surprises’ in the (complexity of the) design and construction processes. As well as helping to share and celebrate the project’s creation.”

Source: Nic van der Nol.


Walkthrough (Example)

Value of Communicating Design via a Walkthrough (Video)

  • While this may represent a rough first pass, example videos (‘artisan walkthroughs’) can provide a client with a good general understanding of the proposed scope of work.
  • The ‘walkthrough’ can significantly help provide a common understanding of where the design is heading.
  • Especially so in this particular scenario, where the client was transitioning into the world of GMP, because these types of visual images really help to get everyone on the ‘same screen’ in terms of their expectations for the finished result.
  • Moreso, it quickly brought the project team together and reduced assumptions in the design process, where the visualisation necessarily enabled the team to focus on particular details, such as the type, placement and intensity of lighting.
  • This always leads to a much more effective collaboration between the architect, builder and client – of which all of the team are collectively very proud.


Summary of Pharmaceutical Architects & Good Communication Skills

In summary, the more clearly a Pharmaceutical Architect can communicate what’s being created, and why – including adding multi-sensory communication experiences as befits a major project – the better the project outcome, and the more aligned the entire project team becomes.

And this is exactly why communication is so important, at every iteration and decision-making point.

Because in relation to pharmaceutical facility architecture, the ramifications of facility design and construction go well beyond buildings; and into public health. Where the health and lives of patients, as noted previously, rely on getting the project right. Where good communication skills between an Architect and the client, and an understanding of facility use (manufacturing processes/room purposes) and regulatory requirements are essential components.