by Mark Reed
Armon Sharei, co-founder of SQZ Biotech had a great problem on his hands. Having identified a new technology to deliver materials directly into the cell cytosol – a significant challenge in many research and therapeutic applications – called the CellSqueeze platform, he attracted a large amount of funding very quickly and needed new lab and office space immediately.
A former graduate student in the labs of MIT Professors Klavs Jensen and Robert Langer, Armon learned quickly the value of choosing an experienced laboratory landlord, BioMed Realty
Trust (BMR), to assist him in delivering a turn-key lab/office space at 134 Coolidge Avenue in Watertown, 21,000 sf of space that is being fully renovated to meet the technological and cultural needs of the company. Represented by Paul Hickey of Black Diamond Real Estate Advisors, Newmark Grubb Knight Frank and CNG Consulting, SQZ formulated a list of needs, searched the market and chose BMR as a landlord-partner.
BMR selected LAB / Life. Science. Architecture, Inc (LAB)., RW Sullivan Engineers, B+AC Structural Engineers and PIDC Construction for the turnkey architecture, engineering and construction services. Peter Young, CEO of PIDC drew upon his deep knowledge of the life science market and the condition of the existing building to develop a Guaranteed Maximum Price that was highly responsive to the needs of SQZ and BMR.
The challenge for LAB, B+AC and RW Sullivan was to integrate new construction with the existing assets of the building to create a completely new feeling. Re-using and reconfiguring most of the existing laboratory casework, salvaging a glass wash and autoclave facility, reinforcing bar joists for roof mounted equipment and connecting into the existing ductwork and piping systems. the design team was able to realize profound cost savings. BMR also invested in upgrading the existing base building systems in order to better support the needs of the tenants in the multi-tenant building.
SQZ Biotech has a youthful, energetic culture and wanted that to come across in the design of their new space. One of the first decisions was to create on open ceiling in the office area, exposing ductwork, piping and bar joists in an informal, hip, industrial way. Large walls are painted in vibrant cyan, orange and green accent colors that reflect the company logo and graphics. Using Interface plank carpet tile with intense orange weaves, the open workstations will be set upon a field of carpet that evokes rapid movement.
Transparency is a strong element of the company culture and the design utilizes floor to ceiling butt-glazed glass wherever possible. In the critical juncture between the lab and the office, a 40 foot long, 9 foot high glass wall provides a panoramic view of the open lab space from the workstations. Perhaps the most exciting space will be the long kitchenette with industrial appliances and double-sided island that faces the open office. This social hub, within sight of nearly all the seating, will form a natural spot for scientists to socialize and exchange ideas.
With their new headquarters scheduled to open in September, SQZ Biotech will be well positioned to achieve their mission of employing internal research programs and external partnerships to lead a revolution in scientists’ approach to disease research and clinical therapies, developing novel methods to engineer cell function and harnessing the power of a patient’s own cells to combat disease more effectively across a broad range of indications. In the words of Armon Sharei, “It has been a great pleasure working with LAB, PIDC and BMR, and the rest of the build team to develop a space that not only meets our growth needs but also embodies our vibrant company culture”.
Mark Reed, AIA, is a principal at Boston-based architecture firm LAB / Life. Science. Architecture, Inc.