by Matthew Guarracino
Recognized globally as a leader in the life sciences sector, Greater Boston is home to the largest concentration of life sciences researchers in the country. Even in the first quarter of 2018, lab-space vacancy rates are tight in primary life-sciences markets, with less than 5% here in Boston. And, according to a recent study by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, local biotech research-and-development positions have soared 40% over the past decade to nearly 35,000 jobs. Today, the region represents more than one-third of the industry’s venture capital funding.
With areas such as Kendall Square and the Innovation District attracting many leaders in tech and life sciences, it is no surprise that the city has earned a reputation as one of the most innovative in the world. As the biotech sector continues to flourish in 2018, new trends in the Boston development industry will lead the way for the rest of the country. Here are just a few:
- Open space
Historically, the life sciences industry has grappled with helping scientists and researchers better collaborate with one another due to lab spaces that are often secluded. Today, that model is changing significantly to include more open, shared, and flexible spaces in the workplace. New approaches to design will encourage a more collaborative work environment, changing the way researchers interact, share ideas, and socialize — especially in college and university settings. And with open space also comes more lighting. In many instances, we are seeing more windows and natural lighting incorporated into these facilities — such as Boston University’s Center for Integrated Life Sciences & Engineering, and Northeastern’s Interdisciplinary Science & Engineering Complex — to complement the open, fluid layout of these buildings.
From the Seaport to Somerville to Allston, developers are including all possible amenities in order to attract tenants. This battle of amenities is pushing the city to create new, modern developments, sustaining Boston’s status as one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States — and this trend is no stranger to the life sciences sector. Just as residential, academic, and commercial developments are catering to a demand in contemporary amenities, life sciences facilities are incorporating things like common areas, balconies, terraces, and outdoor spaces that encourage informal interaction. Ginkgo Bioworks, located in the Seaport’s Innovation and Design Building, reflects this new approach. Not only is the Seaport and waterfront a hub for cultural institutions and restaurants, but the Innovation and Design Building itself offers diverse amenities including on-site food destinations, Reebok’s gym facility, green space, seating areas, access to the Harborwalk, and more.
- Sustainable design
Facility design must take into account the tools, technologies, and amenities that contribute to the health and wellness of researchers who spend long hours on the job. While one floor may require additional wet labs focused on biological research, another floor may need increased ventilation to handle fumes created in chemistry labs. With designs tailored for specific tasks and more traditional spaces able to accommodate special HVAC systems, labs can be incorporated into a variety of spaces. Take, for example, facilities like Novartis, Pfizer, and Kendall Square’s Lab Central which acts as a hub for high-potential life sciences startups seeking access to collaborative, contemporary spaces with high-tech labs.
- Advanced lab systems/equipment
As an extension of the sustainable design concept, more advanced technology and equipment will be necessary in order to meet the specific system needs of these facilities. As previously mentioned, laboratories require more complex ventilation systems and control systems to allow for proper air flow in experiments involving chemicals and other substances. This is especially true for a number of unique, technical labs in Boston. MIT’s nanotechnology facility requires highly specialized systems that can control airflow in temperature-sensitive laboratories. This facility had to install a state-of-the-art HVAC system, providing the clean room spaces with air supplied from multiple air-handling units.
The impact of Boston’s developers, builders, and subcontractors — who understand the precision and expertise needed to meet this industry’s special construction requirements — contributes to the Greater Boston life sciences industry’s world-class reputation.
Matthew Guarracino is the business development manager at JM Electrical Company, Inc.