How did Kuwait, a small, peaceful country with a per capita crime rate lower than Japan, substantiate the need for one of the largest forensic science facilities in the world? You may think that a flagship facility such as the one proposed for Kuwait is influenced by self-image – especially in a region now famous for building impressive, large scale structures – but for Kuwait, self-image is not the motivation. The new Kuwait Criminal Evidence Headquarters (KCE-HQ) has been shaped and scaled by need, respect for local culture, and a strict adherence to superior forensic and medical examination protocols.

Kuwait’s General Department of Criminal Evidence is considered one of the most important and vital resources of the Ministry of Interior not only for its contributions to criminal prosecution, but also for the development of fundamental data required for both Government and private sector employment. Established in 1961, the year of Kuwait’s independence, the Criminal Evidence Headquarters’ initial mission was death investigation and analysis of document forgeries. By the mid-1980s, full crime scene investigation and laboratory support were added. During the Iraqi Invasion of 1990 the KCE-HQ was totally destroyed but re-established in 1991, currently housed in interim facilities with minimal laboratory infrastructures. While relocating the KCE-HQ to a state of the art, innovative facility that supports the criminal justice system is a primary goal of the Directorate, this new facility also affords the Kuwaiti government the opportunity to expand the KCE-HQ mission beyond its traditional role of passive evidence verification into an active, crime prevention organization. New departments for Cyber Crimes and a National DNA Database Center will better address challenges arising from population changes due to increased immigration. The new, comprehensive facility will house the departments of:

  • The General Directorate
  • Criminal Laboratory
  • Crime Scene
  • Forensic Medicine
  • Forgery and Counterfeit Prevention
  • Personal Identification and Automated Fingerprint
  • Quality Control
  • Research, Development, and Training
  • Service and Support
  • Department of Utilities

The new KCE-HQ Headquarters is influenced by many factors typical of all international forensic buildings, but by comparison with U.S. or European facilities, some aspects are unique based on regional culture.

In the publication Forensic Laboratories: Handbook for Facility Planning, Design, Construction, and Moving1 the U.S. National Institute of Justice notes that most modern forensic facilities fall within a range of 700 to 1000gsf per building occupant. Even though this reference is offered as a ballpark, many U.S. laboratory administrators believe it to be a reliable benchmark. Paradoxically, even though the Kuwait facility will be one of the largest in the world, the ratio of square feet per occupant is just under 319gsf. So what is it that makes the Kuwait criminal investigation facility so different from a typical U.S. model? For one, the Kuwait social benefit of full employment. This goal of full employment obviates the need for laboratory staff and laboratory administrators to manage extensive paperwork for reporting, accreditation, quality control, or other nonscientific activities. The higher number of available administrative staff helps lower the building occupant ratio because administrative and clerical staff does not need laboratory bench space in addition to an office. Some large-scale U.S. facilities also achieve efficient occupant ratios usually in the range of 450-500sf per occupant, but the need for these federal or municipal facilities is usually substantiated by a large per-capita crime rate. Kuwait’s legal system differs from the U.S. and possession of both alcohol and firearms are illegal. These restrictions alone result in a reduced need for some laboratory space.

In addition to a right to work, Islamic customs impose other requirements. For example, men and women do not work or rest in the same office environment. This separation of genders causes redundancies in administrative space. Entry portals into the laboratories (biovestibules) are also separated by gender for changing into personal protection equipment. However, a mixing of genders is allowed in the laboratories and work environment, thereby eliminating the need for duplicating scientific spaces. By comparison to the typical 8-hour day in the U.S., the 7-hour work day in Kuwait, along with time for prayers can effect the time spent in the laboratory. Spaces for prayer and social formalities incorporated in the KCE-HQ include a Mosque and greeting areas within the Departments. Regional conflicts also contribute to the program needs – prior events have driven the need for defensive building spaces. Although protective shelters, water storage requirements, air filtration equipment, and other emergency necessities add to the KCE-HQ building area, these necessities provide safe harbor for the staff from explosive, chemical, biological, and even nuclear events.

In spite of location, every forensic facility shares one common function, to provide laboratory space for the examination of physical evidence using the scientific principles of biology, chemistry, and physics. To safely and effectively work, evidence analysts need open, flexible bench space; multiple instrument types; and building systems that preserve the health and safety of occupants and the integrity of evidence.

After its destruction in 1990, the KCE-HQ was reconstituted in a structure that was not originally designed for laboratory functions and currently does not adequately support laboratory systems. At the outset of planning activities, KCE-HQ representatives stated a goal of developing new forensic medicine and criminal laboratory facilities that incorporate the best of all international design standards. In the U.S., forensic laboratory space standards are benchmarked on the National Institute of Justice publication previously referenced in this article. This publication provides space guidelines for dedicated analyst bench space, specialty functions, laboratory services, and offices. Drawing on experience in the application of NIJ and other international standards, KCE-HQ programmers projected the building need by using a planning module or single unit of space that functions like a building block. Regardless of geographic location, modular planning benefits the organization and operation of a laboratory facility by establishing a uniform grid for locating demising walls, columns, windows, and other elements so that rooms can expand or contract without brick and mortar changes. Offices may be a whole module, or a fraction of a module, while laboratories may be made up of several modules. For the KCE-HQ, the unit module is 3.3m x 3.3m (approximately 117nsf). The total number of modules projected for KCE-HQ laboratory functions alone is 757 modules or approximately 89,000 net square feet.

When planning laboratory facilities programmers use specific ratios of net square feet area to gross area. Net area is measured “paint to paint” or inside wall to inside wall. This is the space that analysts will occupy. The gross building area is measured from the building’s exterior walls including public space, circulation, wall thicknesses, structure, chases, and mechanical/electrical/plumbing systems. For laboratory buildings, the amount of required mechanical space is much larger than other institutional buildings because of the need for separate air handling systems. From a safety perspective, ventilation air supplied to laboratories is not re-circulated. Designing separate building systems naturally gives way to a pattern of zoning that makes vertical distribution of separate air systems easier to implement. Figure 1 is an example of how a simple rectangular floor plan can be organized into laboratory and office zones.

To translate the total amount of net building area to a total amount of gross building area for KCE-HQ without having an actual floor plan, programmers applied a 58% net to gross ratio – that is to say, 58% of the building is made up of assigned rooms and the remaining 42% is the space allocated to building requirements including structure, circulation, and building system functions, to name a few. The total gross building area projected for the KCE-HQ is 43,710m2 or approximately 470,486gsf for 1475 staff.

At present the KCE-HQ has approximately 800 total staff. The new KCE-HQ facility is planned to meet the country’s needs for approximately thirty years to 2035. Because Kuwait citizens have right to work status, the Directorate was concerned that over-staffing may occur and challenged the planners to validate staff need. The greatest challenge for right-sizing the building was to understand how a shorter workday might impact near- and far-term laboratory staffing.

Requirements for KCE-HQ Administrative services are driven solely by operational nuances and existing planning standards, but laboratory staff need is based on a combination of caseload projection and achievable case work times. In a real-time setting, formulas to project staff need were developed with input from Department representatives. Using historical caseloads, a 30-year projection of casework was made based on per capita growth at 2.7% (Figure 2(1)). Casework times were developed by interviewing staff about their typical workday including delays and other miscellaneous activities including training (Figure 2(2)). A total facility benchmark for hourly output was also developed (Figure 2(3)). Using these three factors, an estimate of 329 staff in the Crime Laboratories Department was made by dividing the 30-Year Caseload Projection (Figure 2(1)) by the number of cases one scientist works in a typical year of 1574 work hours (Figure 2(3)), using the agreed-upon work time per case. Methods for estimating Department Administrators including Department Director, Assistant Director, and clerical staff were based on existing KCE-HQ standards.

For KCE-HQ stakeholders, the next issue for exploration is what defines great forensic facility design? Is it the materials, equipment, engineering systems, design, or is it a planning concept that blends all of these into a single facility that absorbs change and gracefully adapts over time? What measures will be used to judge success or failure? For facilities, such as the new KCE-HQ that are intended to support and facilitate science for the next twenty-five to thirty years, questions like these have unique gravity. How do you keep a science facility viable throughout its planned life? Every client wants (and needs) to have the confidence that their facility will be able to adapt to new demands over time and the leadership of KCE-HQ wants to know that the investment being made today will stand up to scrutiny.

To meet this demand, the project team has been scanning the horizon and visiting past clients to best understand where change may occur – what trends, new technologies, and approaches to forensic science will create the next “tipping-point” for change. For example, DNA-driven units are growing quickly usually representing 10-20% of a typical crime lab program. Incorporation of equipment such as robotics may begin to challenge the need for personnel in Kuwait, but experience proves that if crime laboratories don’t already have robotics, chances are they will in the future. Even though today KCE-HQ is based on more traditional staffing, the space and infrastructure must be flexible to accommodate instrument conversions. The challenge is to understand what flexibility means and where it is genuinely needed – is it merely adaptability, or maintaining the opportunity for expansion and contraction? Or, is flexibility growing room to absorb new equipment or people? The challenge for the designers who will implement the KCE-HQ program will be how to design a large-scale facility that effectively supports change without impacting operations and the overall mission of the KCE-HQ. Other challenges that lie ahead include the integration of technology to easily facilitate the sharing of information allowing data to be used by scientists from locations outside the lab, in a nearby office or around the world. The realization of virtual experimentation and collaboration through software and technology will continue to impact the design and total building environment.

As planning begins to transition into design development, the team will continue to be challenged by the demands of program, protocol, flexibility, and the other shape givers that define success, but one factor is evident, the new General Department of Criminal Evidence will continue Kuwait’s tradition of leadership inthe Gulf Region and set a new milestone for crime evidence verification.

1. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice (Publication NCJ 168106 April 1998).

Clay Stafford is a Senior Laboratory Programmer with HERA, Inc. He has 20 years of experience in facility programming, planning, strategic planning, and master planning for forensic, government, and academic clients. Clay may be contacted at

Nancy Sopuch is a Laboratory Programmer with HERA, Inc. With 15 years of laboratory programming, project feasibility and campus utilization analysis she has worked for forensic, government, and academic clients. Nancy may be contacted at