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Sam Andras, Mj12 Design Studio

"The sharing of knowledge will help advance cultivation"

A cannabis growing facility poses different challenges when compared to a traditional growing facility. In the cannabis industry, there is a widespread need of information on what works and what doesn’t. This is because every element of a medical cannabis growing facility needs to be carefully planned and designed in order to comply with the pharmaceutical standards, right from the start. Otherwise, changing components or methodologies after the project kicks off oftentimes translates into growers and companies spending a big amount of money to get back on the right track.

Sam Andras

That is why Mj12 Design Studio takes extreme care in designing growing facilities, taking into consideration some aspects that, according to the company, many growers tend to overlook. “We are an architectural interiors firm. We opened originally in 2001.  By 2012 we had grown to a multi-state firm serving national clients.  This growth was anchored by a methodology focused on integrated design producing client driven solutions. In 2013, we had the opportunity to venture into the cannabis market. We opened a subsidiary company entirely focused on the cannabis industry. Thus far, we have designed many about forty facilities, including cultivation, processing, extraction/infusion/packaging (manufacturing), operations, and dispensaries,” says Sam Andras, Mj12 Design Studio CEO. “The majority of the work we do is vertically integrated facilities: cultivation, extraction manufacturing (extraction/infusion/packaging), and operations.”  Facilities design by MJ12 Design Studio range in size from 10,000 to 1,800,000 square feet, Sam points out. 

A good start is half the work
According to Sam, it is of the utmost importance to know the details of a growing operation beforehand in order to facilitate the design process and make it as flexible as possible. “We have developed a questionnaire with which we engage the customer.  The questionnaire helps us better understand the client’s goals, vision, cultivation methodology, and facility components,” Sam states. Since he worked with many customers, Sam has witnessed many different approaches and methodologies to cannabis cultivation: “One of the things we found is that in so many ways cannabis cultivation is such a new venture. There’s not a lot of best practices: the temperature, irrigation, lighting systems, all these vary from grower to grower. We send out the questionnaire to narrow these things down so that we understand the grower, their cultivation technology, methodology, what medium they will be growing in – and we use that as a spring board to start our design.”

A vast majority of growers we work with are moving from small-scale to large-scale operations.  These growers tend to struggle understanding the vast array of systems and automation available to them, according to Sam.  Most have only grown utilizing one methodology and medium.  “The question for them, and the business owner, is what kind of system they will need to get the most out of their business; to maximize revenue. This information isn’t readily available within the industry, a consequence of the widespread atmosphere of secrecy and confidentiality that badly affects this industry and which prevents the circulation of knowledge.” 

He continues: “There is a huge difference between growing plants in the attic and growing them in a large facility. When you are working with 10 plants, you have eyes on those plants all the time. In a smaller space the environment is easier to control, the systems aren’t as complex; everything is easier on a micro scale.  When growers make the move to larger facilities, they have sometimes struggle to understand the number of people they are going to need to see the plants, the harvest schedule, how many mothers they need, the amount of vegetation required, fertigation options, environmental control systems, plant processing needs, and so forth.”

Optimizing spaces
According to Sam, this kind of attitude eventually results in growing facilities which are not flexible and are tailored to a single grower only. “Because there is sometimes a lack of understanding from the growers’ side, the buildings really do become designed specifically to a grower’s needs only.”

Mj12 Design Studio solutions exactly address this issue. “Our goal as architects is to maximize flexibility in the design for the facility, not specific to one grower, but keeping it open to industry standard possibilities so that the design can work with different technologies, growing media and so forth.”

Thus, Sam points out that growers usually tend to forget that space needs to be designed as well: a good and on point space optimization could greatly improve the efficiency of the growing operations and thereby drastically increase revenue. “One thing that I noticed owners always say is that they make money from flowers, so they want to maximize flower space. Many times, that translates to a facility that has way more flower space than accessory spaces such as mother and veg can support. The idea is to make sure that mother, propagation and veg is sized correctly in order to maximize flower.”  

Sharing knowledge to advance cultivation
Sam is very critical of the aura of secrecy that surrounds some cannabis operations. “Everybody thinks they have the secret sauce. The reality is that’s hurting the industry. People need to share ideas, only in this way you will know what works and what doesn’t work. In many facilities I walked around in, I noticed a lot of boxes, containers and storages basically all over, because nobody ever properly planned ahead. Every facility has its dry room. But what happens if the harvest schedule is right on your dry schedule and you have to pull out that dried product and put it somewhere before it goes into trim? So, where is the transition space? What happens to your trim before it goes into extraction?”

To support his view, Sam shares something he experienced himself while working on a project: “I was working with a team in Massachusetts where the head grower came from the Netherlands. The methodologies and technologies that he was bringing to the team were extremely exciting and vastly different from many utilized in the States. These technologies and systems have been utilized in the Netherlands for decades, yet they are fairly unknown in the U.S.  Another example, we are beginning to work with teams in South Africa, Macedonia, and Gibraltar.  Many of our foreign clients don’t understand GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) as related specifically to the cannabis industry.  The sharing of ideas and information will help advance cultivation in the U.S. and on a global scale.”

For more information:
Mj12 Design Studio
7430 East Caley Ave
Suite 280E
Centennial, CO 80111