Breaking Down Deal Breakers in Office-To-Lab Conversions – Commercial Observer


Creativity and scientific inquiry are typically at odds; one is ok right brain, the other stay left. But when it comes to shaping the development of life sciences, both are on the mind. In order for a lab to analyze data, run experiments, and evaluate the results, developers must think outside the box and consider many features that go beyond office building standards.

“The needs of the tenants are different than just a classic [office] – a journalist or a PR company – because it requires a lot of power, ventilation and expansion space,” he said Leslie Heavenmanaging partner of a development company sky + meringoff properties.

2005 heaven + Bought meringoff 525 West 57th Stthe currently houses Life sciences tenants such as lab corp, a company specializing in diagnostic testing and drug development. Heaven has been there for 17 years + Meringoff pioneered the development of life sciences, although back when Heaven first began, the Industry had yet to establish this title. Now, with more money and attention driving the industry, life sciences have taken off traction. With this dynamic comes demand and the need to deliver buildings.

To meet the growth of life science tenants, developers have adopted the strategy from far Adaptive Reuse. Depending on the building, some aspects of offices easily lend themselves to laboratories, while others can be modified to suit the needs of tenants.

“What has made rehab so appealing is a kind of speed-to-market proposition, where these buildings can be remodeled faster than they will allow and go through a construction process for a new building,” he said John Sullivan, President of an architectural office SGA.

SGA is more concerned with new construction than building repositioning, although tenant demand has led to an increase in adaptive reuse. but the process of converting buildings into science-specific spaces is not without its challenges challenges. Certain structural features are preserved must haves for life sciences, so developers, design teams and the like must find creative solutions to convert standard buildings into laboratories suitable for cutting-edge research.

“The most important thing people talk about is ground level,” he said Matt Havertysite manager at Oxford Properties. “That’s primarily because there are fresh air requirements for labs that require you to turn the air around and have fresh air – not recirculated [air]which use 95 percent of office buildings.”

As labs need fresh air, they need more and larger ductwork, Haverty said. These take up more space in the ceiling, so the room height and distance between floors are primary indicators of whether a building has the potential to become a laboratory at all.

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“Usually there’s a volume between the ceiling and the next floor above,” Sullivan said, “and that’s where you have to find the solution for all the duct work and for the whole structure and all the infrastructure needs for the space.”

As for the specifics of those heights, the taller the better, Himmel said, setting 10 feet as a rough baseline for ceiling heights. For total storey heights Architectural office Gensler sets a higher range of 14 to 16 feet while SGA points to 14 feet, 6 inches as the golden measure.

“What drives that [number] is an acceptable ceiling height on the market that’s around 10 feet,” Sullivan said, echoing Himmel’s estimate. “So, above that 10-foot threshold, there’s a significant amount of ductwork, there’s structure, there’s lighting, there’s plumbing. And it all has to fit into the rest of this dimension that makes it up 14 feet, 6 inches. So we find that anything lower pushes that 10-foot ceiling down with it.”

To really understand how ceiling and floor heights hinder adaptive reuse, look at the streets of New York City. new York has all the right features for advancement in life sciences, such as B. Access to hospitals and academic institutions. But many smaller offices and side street buildings in Midtown cannot accommodate the ceiling heights required for labs, Himmel said. This non-starter stalled the potential of life sciences before it even had a chance to be explored.

But while proper ceiling height allows for new air to circulate, it’s not the only way to meet that need. Rather, there are creative solutions to circumvent spatial barriers. For example, additional shafts can be built into the ceiling, although this solution introduces another list of building requirements: namely, roof area and access, and the structural capacity for such changes.

Beyond this alternative, there are even more creative ways to work around low ceiling heights, Haverty said. And while feasible, these solutions are not ideal. The give and take of laboratory supplies raises the question of when a building’s original features—or lack thereof—become a bar to scientific reuse. Just because you can bypass a barrier doesn’t mean you should; at some point enough is enough, especially if you want to present the best possible building to your tenants.

Without the right infrastructure, buildings that would be Class A offerings could become Class B in the market, Sullivan said. Architects can try to reposition buildings, but the spaces can ultimately yield lower rental yields and appeal to fewer tenants.

“I think a lot of buildings tip transitioned to life sciences,” said Himmel, noting that ventilation, supplemental power and generators are among other critical technical components a lab must contain.

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As such, identifying buildings that are ideal for the life sciences industry requires a great deal of trial and error, critical judgment, and patience.

“We looked at a number of buildings that you don’t want to remodel,” he said Abby MondaniDirector of Life Sciences, West Coast at Oxford Properties.

Mondani and Haverty estimated they’ve seen about 100 buildings over the past two years. While many properties appealed to them, they often couldn’t get past certain key components. Without the right infrastructure—adequate ceiling heights and cargo capacity and column spacing—getting ahead is challenging and probably not worth it.

In addition to ceiling height, Haverty pointed to the location of the freight elevator, the location of the loading dock, and, if it’s a chemistry lab, chemical storage access, as key considerations for the retrofit. Loading and site access pose significant barriers to a lab’s success, not to mention tenant safety.

Another stringent requirement for many lab users is the aforementioned column spacing, which immediately helps developers sort out potential lab space. Oxford Properties involves a planning team in the evaluation of a property at an early stage. Once the space is laid out, it is easy to see if it is suitable for a future laboratory.

Such detailed work is essential in all types of development, but it is particularly important in the life sciences. Beyond the mere structural and logistical basics, lab spaces need to accommodate hyper-specific tenant needs—a task made all the more difficult when you don’t yet know who your tenants might be.

“While we will always take advantage of the local market [and] the experts in the local market to determine the feasibility of customer acquisition success, we will not normally go ahead with these projects when there is a tenant,” said Mondani.

Working to specifications lends itself to the speed of the life sciences industry. Once labs raise funding, they look for spaces to inhabit. When a life sciences company is just starting out, these areas can be quite general. However, with the further development and specialization of the company, the building has to meet new specific technical requirements.

“Laboratory space isn’t generic,” Himmel said. “It’s very different for a neurology lab than it is for an immunology lab. … They do different things.”

Because a lot of Life sciences development is speculative, developers building for needs they may not fully understand. While seemingly blind development sounds risky, predicting build requirements is actually pretty easy. Secure, developer can’t necessarily predict a specific renter, but they can can assess which science best suits the location of the building.

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In the life sciences industry, the concept of clusters often reappears, referring to geographic origins that embody established scientific practices. If a building within a given cluster is being remodeled, that space is likely to attract tenants similar to neighboring labs.

“They usually understand the demand for science that is piling up in the market,” Mondani said. She pointed to Seattle – where Oxford recently finished a 130,000-square-foot office-to-lab conversion — as a market focused on cell and gene therapy.

Once companies identify market trends, they can plan their remodels accordingly and predict whether a life sciences company will be successful in a particular building. What works for one lab may not work for another. Biology labs, for example, are fairly versatile and capable of working in chemistry-centric spaces. However, chemical companies may not be able to function outside of a chemistry-specific building.

These differences boil down to spatial characteristics that may seem inconsequential but are essential to a laboratory’s work. According to Haverty, sinks are critical for chemistry labs. Due to the routine handling of chemicals and liquids, a chemical company requires a significant number of sinks from the start.

“[Sinks aren’t] something you can easily customize later,” Haverty said, “because it’s a significant amount of infrastructure: the kind of core and shell components that would need to be changed to make that possible.”

While plumbing, HVAC, and electrical requirements may seem more adaptable than ceiling heights, for example, they are fundamental components of a building. Changing such infrastructure after the fact can be difficult, not to mention expensive and dangerous. Unless a chemistry tenant does a lot of chemistry, a chemistry-heavy lab would have trouble working in a space without a sink.

You want to understand your infrastructure from day one, Haverty recommends. Once you’ve identified a target tenant, you can tailor the remodeling and design process to meet that tenant’s needs—or abandon it if the essentials aren’t in place.

But even if the characteristics match and a building appears ready for conversion, a laboratory does not exist in isolation. Each building has a neighborhood, and a company’s location reflects its access to the larger, neighboring scientific research cluster. For labs looking for inspiration, resources, and collaboration, connectivity can be just as important as ceiling height.

“I think it’s more about the neighborhood,” Himmel said, “and ‘am I in a cluster where renters want to be?'”

Anna Staropoli can be reached at [email protected].



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