By Kerrie Julian, RA, LEEP AD, CDT, Director of Science Strategy

Leasing lab space in the metro Boston commercial real estate market – one of the top three in the country for life sciences – can present a journey into the unknown for companies emerging from the incubator stage or any growing company not familiar with the construction process. On any trip into unfamiliar territory, a road map is a requisite tool for helping a traveler steer clear of wrong turns, unexpected hazards, and costly detours. For companies seeking the most ideal space and lease terms for their lab facilities, market knowledge and early programming are the roadmaps to a successful project.

Market Intelligence

Cresa Boston’s Q2 2022 market report on life sciences juxtaposed low vacancy rates in Cambridge with higher rates between Route 128, the inner suburbs, and Boston. Class A building rents in Boston and Cambridge averaged $100 to $125 per square foot, but lab space is more than twice as expensive to fit out in an existing building than office space. Cresa also advised: “With occupancy delays becoming increasingly common, upfront due diligence on buildings, infrastructure, and the team are critical in staying on schedule and budget.” That’s precisely where lab programming and planning come into play.

Basic Program Information

A commercial real estate broker obtains basic information from prospective tenants to narrow down available options during the site search. This includes location, approximate square footage based on full-time employees, future growth, and desired building infrastructure and amenities. Understanding square footage and amenities are important because although the tenant will only occupy the usable square footage, it is the rentable square footage – a percentage of the property’s common areas – that is used to calculate the lease amount. Many times, lab architects are asked to do preliminary lab layouts or a test fit to validate the client’s space needs and to confirm the client’s overall program and space requirements.

Extending beyond preliminary test fits, lab programming can help determine the client’s needs regarding location within the building, sometimes requiring the lower floor levels of a building, ensuring construction type classification and building infrastructure will meet the client’s needs and comply with all applicable federal, state, and local codes, regulations, and ordinances.

Unique Programming for Lab Space

Planning for lab versus office space is different for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the use and storage of hazardous materials and chemicals. Due to the nature of the work and type of equipment, labs also require increased security and flexible design; place higher demands on HVAC, electrical, plumbing, emergency power, and structural systems; and need generous plenum space for ductwork and piping, requiring higher floor-to-floor heights.

During programming, the lab planner and/or architect will collect and analyze data from the client and specific end users that will not only provide a foundation for the lab layout with respect to square footage, adjacencies, equipment and furniture types and sizes. It will also establish lab and support space standards, identify building system performance criteria, and validate the owner’s existing facilities program strategies.

Timing is Everything

Whether a start-up moving on from incubator space or an established company looking to expand, the time to partner with an experienced lab design professional is as soon as the need for new, more, or different space arises. Identifying the client’s real estate needs is the key to finding the right building and leasing the appropriate type and amount of space necessary to meet their short and long-term business goals.

This article was featured in High Profile Monthly. 

Locally Researched by: Sean McFadden

Total 2021 billings may include international projects in some instances. Mass. architectural billings refers to billings for architectural projects only performed by the firm’s Mass. office(s) for projects in Mass. only. Total 2021 architectural billings refers to billings for all architectural projects performed by the firm, in Mass. and elsewhere.

Read Boston Business Journal’s full article for this year’s largest architectural firms in Massachusetts. 

Megan Hogan, NCIDQ, LEED GA

What advice would you offer to women getting into the CRE industry?

Be a sponge. The biggest mistake I see young designers make is expecting too much responsibility too soon after starting out and listening too little. There is so much to learn from experienced architects and interior designers. This is one reason the field of design is based on apprenticeships. Find veterans of the industry who want to share their knowledge and experience. Practice humility, listen, and of course, work hard. These are the best ways to grow your career.

What trends will dominate your industry in the coming months?

The biggest trend right now is flexibility as it relates to the re-shaping of the office post-pandemic. The hybrid model is still the way of the future, but this concept is still evolving as demand from the workforce increases. The most important thing right now is allowing as much flexibility as possible whether it be through versatile furniture, accessible technology, or even rethinking what the physical office environment what the physical office environment looks like for your company. We are, still, as a workforce learning, adapting, and assessing this new hybrid work environment and for us designers and workplace strategists, it’s an exciting time.


Tiffany Best, LEED AP

What trends will dominate your industry in the coming months?

The pandemic has altered healthcare design, advancing pre-existing technology to aid the current need. I believe telemedicine will make further advances within the next few months to allow in-house treatment between both physician and the patient. Online video and tele-conferencing have also influenced the healthcare industry, allowing the education of medical staff at all levels while saving time and money.

What has been your biggest challenge and how have you faced it?

Healthcare is constantly evolving, and it is important, as a designer, to evolve with it. Our role as architects and interior designers is to be the bridge between new technology and client needs. It’s imperative to stay up to date with trends and adjust how to plan and design a space to not only fit current needs, but future needs as well.


See Megan and Tiffany featured in this year’s NEREJ Women in Commercial Real Estate Spotlight.