by Imran Khan
According to the CBRE Q3 Cambridge Lab MarketView report, “the impact of COVID on office market demand has resulted in nearly every building owner evaluating whether a portion or all of their buildings can be converted to lab.” From a design perspective, these lab conversions pose an interesting set of challenges, particularly in an industry like life sciences where researchers might be doing anything from theoretical research on how to make a new salad dressing to developing prototypes for gene therapy.
Not all labs are the same nor is all available office building stock always suitable for an office-to-lab conversion. For example, life sciences labs may demand high amounts of air supply, gases delivered to benchtops, and treatment tanks. Labs supporting physical sciences may have enhanced electrical power requirements along with vibration control.
In this article, we will explore the design factors both building owners and tenants should keep in mind before converting corporate office space into a lab. In general terms, owners have to consider what kind of lab user they want to attract and tailor the building shell renovations to those users, while still building in the flexibility to adapt the building in the future to other users.
Labs require large amounts of space for support systems, for the safe flow of people and materials, and for operations.
- Clear ceiling heights of nine feet are standard for laboratories. Fume hoods and other high-ventilation functions in labs require large duct capacities. Ducted return air ducts may also be required. This translates to 14 to 15 feet floor-to-floor.
- Multiple, non-redundant circulation paths to separate people from materials may be required. This includes vertical circulation (freight elevators).
- Neutralization tanks, whether for disposal of microbes or acid waste, require space.
- Loading docks for delivery of raw materials and shipping of finished product are essential to many life science operations.
Flexibility and Adaptability
When considering converting a building to lab use, most owners will want the ability to attract a range of tenants. Flexibility and adaptability, however, come at a cost.
- Owners need to establish their base building program of systems supporting labs while allowing for room for future upgrades. Capital improvements performed pre-lease will attract more interested tenants but must be weighed against the potential financial return.
- Life science uses will require waste treatment that is different for food research or for the physical sciences. Providing for all three uses may provide flexibility but at a great capital cost. A better approach is providing the space for adding these later as needed.
- Microscopy and laser work require a stable surface but creating that across an entire floor or floors can be costly.
The Right Lab for Your Space
Not all lab projects are created equal, which means not all buildings are a perfect fit for a lab. Whether you are a tenant or a building owner, you can use the design knowledge above to conduct a gap analysis and determine if your space is right for an office-to-lab conversion.
Imran Khan is an associate principal and director of science at Margulies Perruzzi.