During the early days of the pandemic, we collectively embraced the notion that once vaccines became available, things would return to a “new normal,” and a mass return to the office would follow.
In reality, the hybrid work environment – long a staple in certain high-tech industries and made possible through advancements in technology – was mainstreamed. At the time, Margulies Perruzzi’s workplace strategy report, “Embracing the Hybrid Workspace,” affirmed the logic of transitioning from a traditional to hybrid model.
Our survey of 8,600 people across multiple business sectors revealed that 44 percent of workers planned on being in the office three days a week, and 25 percent planned on two days. Only 9 percent responded that they would return to a pre-pandemic office presence.
A Buzzword Is Back
It seems appropriate to resurrect a late-1990s buzzword, “paradigm shift,” because the pandemic is almost solely responsible for a fundamental change in the basic concepts and practices related to the traditional, corporate 9-to-5 in-office model.
Corporate managers who make real estate and facility decisions are facing the new reality of altered employee expectations. We know of one company that had an epiphany when they realized that the 100,000-square-foot building they own sits mostly empty, because in their new hybrid work environment, they have never had more than 50 people show up to work in the office on any given day.
So where are we now, and what does the future look like?
According to JLL’s third-quarter U.S. office outlook report, return-to-office metrics have trended upward this year, with most Fortune 500 employers gravitating to around three or more days of in-office attendance and pivoting away from fully remote hiring.
CBRE reported in their September office occupier sentiment survey that in the U.S., 65 percent of companies have a formal attendance requirement in place versus 31 percent one year ago. The average weekly office utilization rate varies by region; in the Asia-Pacific region 45 percent of respondents report their spaces to be highly utilized, while in the U.S. that figure is only 24 percent.
Many Look to Alter Spaces
We recently launched a new initiative to find out how our clients are approaching hybrid work, and the results align with what other industry leaders are reporting.
Sixty-three percent of our clients said had no formal hybrid or flexible attendance plan prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, 70 percent have one in place now.
Only 40 percent of our clients required attendance in the office a specific number of days per week, while 60 percent had “suggested” in-office targets. Meanwhile, 40 percent of our clients said they were an “office first” organization, with 20 percent identifying as “remote first” and the remainder saying they had a “true hybrid” character.
And while only 40 percent of our clients said they had reduced their office footprint, half said they had altered their office space in some way.
Occupiers’ Options Abound
There are many options available for implementing a full or partial return to the office, but there is no “one size fits all” solution. For the company I mentioned with a 100,000-square-foot, underutilized building, alternatives included selling it, relocating to a smaller space and designing it for how their staff works now, subletting half the square footage and redesigning the space they occupy, or keeping the building and initiating a mandatory in-office schedule.
Companies opting to redesign current or new space to bring workers back to the office are using various tactics. Creating a more home-like atmosphere might translate into softer seating and less dependence on fixed workstations. Now that virtual meetings are routine, private offices can be transformed into huddle rooms where one or two people can conduct an online session with acoustic and visual privacy. There is also a move towards even more collaboration and team space, as well as organized events, activities and amenities designed to appeal to the basic human need to be together.
Sometimes the reconfiguration or downsizing of space boils down to pure math: If a company requires everyone to come in three days a week on the same days, then there is no option to reduce seating or decrease space. The only way this type of hybrid policy would work is if attendance is staggered throughout the week, and it is easy to imagine how quickly this could become complicated and counterproductive.
In the end, the most successful solution is one that is uniquely tailored to a company’s business model, strategic plan and corporate culture. Ultimately, flexibility of both thought and design are the keys to cultivating a successful hybrid work environment.
There are many misconceptions about lab design. In this article, we will delve into some common myths and explain why these may not be applicable for a particular project.
Myth #1: Lab Design Is Highly Regulated
While there are multiple regulations that need to be adhered to in an operational laboratory, clients are often surprised to learn that outside of general building, plumbing, and fire code requirements, there are often minimal (and sometimes zero additional) design regulations that are required solely because a space is designated as a lab. Most lab regulations have to do with the operations taking place within the lab, and the safe storage or transport of materials and waste in and out of the lab.
Of course, every project is unique. During the programming and planning phases it is best for clients to work with their design team and consultants to identify any special functions, hazards, or limitations of their site that may trigger special codes or regulations based on where they are located or the type of work they do.
Myth #2: You Cannot Use Certain Finishes or Products in Labs
Lab design involves the selection of many finishes and products, including flooring, wall paint, cabinetry, worksurfaces or lab benches, ceiling tiles or paint, piping, and plumbing fixtures. Many people think that certain finishes or products are never allowed in laboratories. This is generally not the case. Typically, certain materials are selected based on multiple factors including their durability, cleanability, resistance to chemicals or mold, sustainability, and availability. There are certain rules of thumb for using different materials that are considered best practice in particular environments, but they are rarely mandatory.
When selecting finishes and products, clients should work with their project, operations, facilities, and design teams to consider all the above factors, in addition to the upfront cost, including cost for both material and installation, and long-term cost, including maintenance or replacement.
Myth #3: The Rules of Lab Design are Absolute
There are many myths within lab design that are conveyed using “always” or “never” language, such as “sinks should always be located near the entrance,” or “wood casework should never be used in a biology lab.” The reality is that it depends.
Often a client will make a request for their project design and use the “always” or “never” language themselves. This does not mean that all future clients think the same way. Their processes, safety program, material use, maintenance schedule, and even design aesthetic may dictate the exact opposite of the previous request. It is best to ask follow up questions to the client about why they have a specific preference and use that background information to inform your approach on future projects.
Just because you can do something does not mean that you should, and just because a material or product is available to use, does not mean that it is a good option. It is best to take multiple factors into account, weigh the options, and at the end of the day remember that except for code requirements, the client is the final decision maker. They are going to be the ones to work in and be responsible for cleaning and maintaining the space in the immediate future. The final layout and selection of products and materials must work with how they operate.
There are many factors that prompt a company to begin thinking about whether they should stay in their current space or move. Chief among them is an impending lease expiration; significant changes in staff size; the need to cut costs; or a merger, acquisition, or consolidation.
A common misconception is that it is less costly to renegotiate and renew a lease that includes an allowance for renovations. This is not always the case when you consider the disruption to workflow that an ambitious construction project can cause, along with higher costs when there is no swing space to accommodate staff while their area is being worked on. This scenario would necessitate construction phasing, thus prolonging the project schedule and potentially requiring certain tasks to be performed at night or on a weekend, which means overtime pay. Even if there is swing space in your building or another building, there would be associated rental costs. However, if renovations are limited to simple cosmetic improvements like new carpet and paint, then disruption is relatively minor and short-lived, and staying may be the best option if a company’s current space will meet their needs for the length of a new lease.
Companies considering lease renewal versus a move should strongly consider working with an architect that will test fit their basic program to available space in feasible buildings, including their own. For new and/or small companies anticipating a stable head count, this traditional approach may suffice. But for larger and more established organizations or those with dynamic marketing goals and corresponding growth trajectories, detailed programming at the outset is to their ultimate advantage. Why? Because an accurate, comprehensive program is at the core of every successful facilities decision, particularly when it comes to one that has such critical first- and long-term ramifications associated with cost, productivity, and overall satisfaction.
In partnership with clients whose circumstances have led them to the “stay or go” point, that process involves conducting an in-depth programming exercise that incorporates a range of data, from operational information, spatial interrelationships and adjacencies, and current and projected head counts, to space usage and types, furniture, hybrid work scenarios, and goals surrounding brand, functionality, productivity, company culture, sustainability, and workplace environment, among others. Once the program and vision have been completed, the resulting information can be applied with high confidence to test fits.
We often work closely with brokers and tenant representatives to evaluate the pros and cons of each location and assist with the final building selection. A case in point is Boston Trust Walden, an independent, employee-owned investment management firm. They decided to move after realizing that their office could not accommodate growth. Reevaluating their space usage helped crystalize their objectives, which were to achieve a contemporary, functional space that facilitates individual and collaborative work, accommodates future growth, and manifests their core values. Opting to stay at One Beacon Street, the firm moved to the 34th floor. As an outcome of conscientious programming and collaboration, their new office space, which was expanded by 50%, features a design based on equitable access to natural light, sustainability, and transparency, reflecting key company principles.
With many such examples in our project experience, we can attest that workplace decisions built on a foundation that combines factual data and aspirational criteria are always the most successful.
Whether you are a developer looking to build a new building, a landlord interested in converting an existing building, or a company looking for a new home, there are specific and important considerations for the layout and construction of a laboratory building. These key considerations are construction type, building infrastructure, lab utilities, and amenities.
First, consider the type of construction. How the building is designed and constructed is an important factor to support laboratory needs. Sufficient fire resistance construction ratings are required for hazardous material use and storage, control area or lab suite segregation, and improved fireproofing.
Anti-vibration methods to isolate sensitive equipment is another common requirement. Many items in a lab require low or no vibration, including imaging instruments, nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers, lasers, and animal care facilities. The construction of the building must be robust to prevent or reduce vibration transferring throughout the building from various sources such as equipment with moving parts, elevators, mechanical equipment, nearby trains, and even people walking.
It is also important that the floor-to-floor height is sufficient to accommodate HVAC, plumbing, utilities/access and taller equipment, and that the floor loads can support heavy equipment.
Elements in the building’s infrastructure are important for supporting the needs of a lab. Dedicated passenger and freight elevators allow for separation of materials, waste, and personnel are critical. Doors should be wide enough to move equipment, casework, skids, and waste; 3’-6” width by 8’-0” height is typical. A loading dock is essential for incoming/outgoing materials along with an adequate driveway for delivery of equipment, supplies, and compressed gases and liquids. Waste management areas are required for temporary staging/storage and collection areas for biohazard, chemical, recycling, and general waste.
In addition, labs require an increased need for air handling due to increased ventilation requirements which may include dedicated rooftop units or redundancy for specific functions or spaces. Any confidential science performed may require additional security for legal or safety reasons. Finally, adequate storage is needed for busy labs and environmentally stable areas may be required.
You also must consider: What type of utilities are being provided for the lab? Will these utilities be provided by the landlord and metered for tenants, or tenant-owned? Lab utilities are an essential consideration for building tenants. Landlords will need to consider what is pre-wired or pre-plumbed, where the “house” systems live, where the “tenant” systems live and how to access these for maintenance or replacement. A well drafted landlord-tenant matrix is essential for a tenant and landlord to understand their utility responsibilities.
A house purified water system may be preferred, or a tenant may provide a local unit that requires pre-filtering. There may be an increased demand for hot water supply to maintain a tempered water loop for eyewashes and emergency showers, which may trigger a boiler upgrade. An air compressor and vacuum pump are frequently needed and plumbed to the open bench areas. Various compressed gases may be required and these could be supplied as smaller cylinders, larger dewars, micro or mini bulk systems, or from a gas generator.
Thoughtful consideration of potential needs should go into planning the building or site to accommodate these gases, including truck access for refills or transport of full or empty containers.
Any potential sinks where hazardous materials may be disposed down the drain should be plumbed to a pH neutralization system. If this is centralized, it should be monitored on a tenant-by-tenant basis. Additional tenant utilities may include generator back up power for critical equipment, uninterrupted power supply for equipment that requires constant power, and networking needs for equipment that require specialty services like dedicated servers.
Science and technology companies are often competing to attract and retain talent in hub markets, including the Greater Boston area. One way of doing this is by being thoughtful about amenities when moving to a new space. These offerings should be included in the building or available in the immediate surrounding neighborhood. Amenities may include: eateries and restaurants, vehicle and bike parking, a fitness center and showers, outdoor space, artwork, meeting and conference space, daycare, and public transit access.
Buildings must meet certain requirements to support laboratory space. The specifics will depend on the tenant, or desired tenant, and their science, processes and equipment. When starting a new project, make sure to evaluate the construction type, building infrastructure, lab utilities and potential or nearby amenities, as these are all important factors that should be taken into consideration in the design and layout of the building.
According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, residential and commercial buildings in the United States are responsible for almost 40% of carbon dioxide emissions and use an almost equal percentage of the country’s energy for lighting, heating, cooling, and appliance operation. In Boston, 70% of greenhouse gas emissions are from buildings, prompting the state to take large strides to reduce this alarming statistic. Cities and towns across Massachusetts are now more stringent with energy codes and introduce ordinances of their own to combat this climate crisis. In fact, as of July 1, 2024, Massachusetts energy codes will become more restrictive, and some municipalities may choose to adopt energy codes that go beyond the Commonwealth’s.
Boston is leading the way for the region in support of all-electric, carbon neutral buildings. As lawmakers here and in surrounding municipalities pass legislation that dictates the path to carbon neutral building functionality by 2050, owners are faced with the challenge of evaluating, improving, and future-proofing their property assets. Pursuant to Boston’s Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO), buildings over 20,000 square feet must report their annual energy and water use to the city and reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time as stated in the BERDO regulations and policies and procedures adopted in January 2023. It is a game changer for developers, owners, and project design teams when it comes to designing a new building or renovating an existing one. Building owners will have three options; Update their buildings to comply, utilize alternative compliance payments, or ultimately face hefty fines for non-compliance.
With these new regulations there are a multitude of design considerations and decisions to be made. Architecturally, an energy efficient building envelope will take the strain off mechanical systems, so they don’t have to work as hard. Think triple-glazed curtain wall; increased insulation with attention paid to thermal bridging; use of recycled construction materials; and integrated lighting control systems. For mechanical systems, the goal is elimination of fossil fuels in favor of clean electric power. The issue now facing electricity providers is making sure they have enough capacity for these all-electric initiatives. Another tactic is switching from traditional building management systems to energy management and information technology that connects multiple building systems to optimize integrity and performance.
Other factors to consider are renewable energy opportunities such as solar panels, geothermal heat pumps, and off-site options. Up until now, geothermal may have been seen as a “nice to have,” but looking toward the future, that philosophy may change as we look at energy consumption. Geothermal technologies and solar opportunities go a long way to help reduce energy consumption of a building, thus reducing its electric load significantly. Smart building technologies can play a major role in achieving carbon neutrality and provide additional energy savings. For natural light control, options include automated shades, electric glass, and switchable films. For HVAC, energy efficient variable feed drives that can be installed in boiler pumps, condensers, water pumps, cooling tower fans, and chiller motor pumps could result in energy savings of up to 60%. Additional resources include lighting controls and tenant controlled plug-in electrical loads.
Meeting these new regulations comes with a cost—several costs, in fact, including, up-front inflated construction costs, technology upgrade costs, penalties for failing to meet regulatory requirements, and potential loss of revenue if your building does not meet prospective tenant expectations regarding local ordinance requirements or their cultural sustainability model. An April 9, 2023 Banker & Tradesman article by Steve Adams presciently addressed green leases, which align the financial and sustainability interests of building owners and tenants: “Typical green lease clauses include requirements for submetering of individual tenant spaces, cost sharing of capital improvements and agreements for tenants and landlords to share data on energy use.”
In preparation for a greener and cleaner future as set forth in BERDO and similar ordinances adopted by other municipalities, building owners, and developers need to begin to assess their buildings now. As architects who have been actively involved in retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency and designing new buildings to net zero and carbon neutral standards, we offer the following tips to help you get started:
Confirm energy loads associated with existing buildings in your portfolio
Determine the capacity of and cost for adapting buildings to accommodate converting gas service to electric
Develop a detailed master plan for the next 25+ years based on specific municipal requirements per building location to bring your buildings into carbon neutral compliance by the stipulated date
One thing that all laboratories have in common is that the scientific functions within them are equipment driven. Equipment can range in size from small, tabletop vortexers, microfuges, scales, or even handheld pipetters to space-intensive items such as freezers, anaerobic chambers, fume or biosafety hoods, automation robotics, or custom equipment.
Whether the client is an established life sciences company or a modest start-up that has outgrown incubator space, the most critical element in planning a lab fit-out is an accurate equipment list. It is the central design tool for the project and is integral to the process of laying out a lab.
Before design begins, an architect and/or lab planner works with their client to define their space program that includes a room list with functional requirements, key adjacencies, headcount, and square footage. Once the basics are established, the next step is to identify what will go into those spaces. For a lab, it is crucial to define early and completely the major furnishing and equipment components, along with workflow preferences.
Typically, the client will provide the architect and/or lab planner with an itemized equipment list that includes the make, model, dimensions, clearances, weight, and intended location, as well as all associated electrical, plumbing, and gas requirements per manufacturer specifications. If this is not possible, or if the existing equipment list is insufficient for planning and design purposes, the architect and/or lab planner may need to survey the existing equipment or develop this list with input from the client based on future projections.
This information is then entered into an equipment matrix, an essential tool for tracking equipment through design, calculating the mechanical and electrical loads, and coordinating locations for outlets, exhaust, or plumbed utilities. Laboratory equipment requires many different utilities that must be coordinated with either base building or lab-specific systems, and sometimes even with other lab equipment. When the utilities are installed in the correct locations on day one, the client can begin operations on time and avoid costly delays.
A complete equipment matrix typically contains additional details that are especially useful to the design team. Examples include identifying requirements for associated computers, UPS or backup power, and specialty casework or storage. This is beneficial to the design process as it identifies any items that require coordination or special consideration.
For a start-up client advancing from an incubator environment to leasing their first new space, the equipment list is an informational linchpin. The design team will work with the end users or procurement team to help develop and maintain their equipment list throughout design and up until move-in day. The team will work with the client to populate the list with projected items through projected growth and workflows for equipment that may be purchased in the future. If needed, a specialized consultant may be brought on to help procure lab equipment.
A detailed equipment list provides the architect and engineering team with key information related to structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing design that supports equipment function and performance. Close communication and coordination between all design disciplines on the team is essential for the systems to perform in harmony in support of the equipment. The design team’s job is complete when the equipment is moved into the laboratory and connected – ready for the scientists to get to work.
In recent years, artwork has become an integral part of the design process, rather than a decorative afterthought. The goal of art in architecture is to improve the environment, provide wayfinding, and enhance the physical and mental well-being of employees and guests. The impact of art in healthcare design is no different, especially for behavioral health facilities. Art that is integrated into the design of a space from its conception plays a vital role in creating a positive patient experience and recovery. Not only does it provide an aesthetic escape and help with wayfinding within a space, but it can also help create a sense of community and calm, especially in a clinical setting.
Examples of beneficial uses of art in behavioral healthcare design include but are not limited to; paintings, murals, landscape photography, biophilia, and interactive sensory opportunities where light, touch, and sound are all part of the experience. Sensory experiences have been shown to help patients self-soothe when experiencing emotional distress. Biophilic installations, such as live plants and green walls, have been shown to help reduce stress in both healthcare and workplace settings, which is beneficial for patients and providers alike. Abstract and landscape paintings, as well as photography, can enhance patient experience, lessen recovery time, and improve staff morale.
While biophilia and plants may not be your initial thought when you think of art, they are an essential part of our natural world and are becoming increasingly common within indoor environments. A study has shown that spending 120-minutes per week in nature is tied to good health and well-being. With the pandemic, we have seen activities in nature and incorporating natural elements into the workplace becoming more common. Further studies have shown that enriching a space with plants can increase productivity by as much as 15%. Not only do plants help with productivity, but they can also help with stress relief as well. When surrounded by greenery, people have a more relaxed and tranquil attitude.
Incorporating art into the design of the expanded behavioral healthcare units at Sanford Medical Center in Sanford, ME was critical to the project. Photos of scenic Maine lighthouses and waterfront views were carefully selected to create full wall murals. The intention behind using these images was to help foster a sense of calm in patients and instill a sense of place and community between patients. Natural imagery and organic textures were also used, when possible, to help create a sense of calm. A relaxing color scheme was curated to avoid causing patients or staff negative emotions, as certain colors can evoke negative feelings. The group therapy room features a textured installation with primary colors, and customizable lighting and sound to generate a full sensory experience.
Incorporating art of all types into the design of clinical care settings, especially behavior healthcare facilities, is integral to creating a calming experience for patients and staff alike. We foresee this trend becoming only more prominent in the future.
This year will be one in which the life sciences market will moderate due to economic factors, even as it remains resilient, according to a December 2022 report by CBRE. New construction is forecast in the three top-tier markets: the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, and Boston-Cambridge. As part of the normalization process, the report cites that there will most likely be demand for multi-tenanted lab/R&D space in smaller geographic markets, and larger life sciences companies may be in acquisition or partnership mode with small but promising firms.
This bodes well for the industry and economy, spurring construction projects ranging from small-scale renovations of existing lab space to relocations driven by the need for increased square footage or a more customized environment. Because laboratory construction is expensive—a fit-out in an existing building in one of the top three U.S. life sciences markets can range from $300 to $650 per square foot versus $110 to $315 for typical office space—understanding how the process works will save time and money while realizing a finished product that accomplishes most, if not all, project objectives.
Existing Lab Renovation vs. New Space Fit-Out
Whether planning for renovations to your current leased space or considering new space at another location, the process is similar but not exactly the same. Here’s why.
Renovating or expanding in the same building in some ways may be simpler in that the building systems are known; a precedent has already been set for your lab equipment, layout, and ancillary space; and site search and lease negotiations are not required unless the expansion is into another area of the same building. Factors to consider when planning this type of project include confirming that the program plan is code compliant; phasing the renovation so that the existing lab can remain safely operational during construction; verifying that new equipment will fit; and determining whether upgrades to existing mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP) and lab utility infrastructure are necessary to accommodate new equipment.
Aside from location, cost, and amenity considerations, a life sciences company looking for new space must also evaluate such factors as the availability of space on the lowest floors of a high-rise building for optimization of control areas; construction type classification; sprinkler and/or fire suppression systems; and the ability to comply with all applicable federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and ordinances. The new space search will ideally incorporate careful review of existing conditions such as floor-to-floor heights, sufficient building systems, and proof that the floors are rated to allow for separate control areas. When the floors aren’t rated—this includes the gap often found at the perimeter of the building where the slab meets the building facade—there are alternatives. One is to upgrade the floors to create a two-hour rating. Another is to fill the perimeter gap with an approved fire safing assembly. Lastly to create a rated storage area on the first floor of the building. The latter, which takes advantage of the higher capacity of chemicals permitted to be stored at lower levels, allows chemicals to be transported to the lab when needed. Whatever the approach for control area strategy for the building, it should be clearly documented in your lease and discussed during lease negotiations. If you are planning to take more space than you currently need to sublease, be aware that your company is now the landlord, the control area strategy needs to be confirmed with your sub-tenant, and that if your science grows faster than originally anticipated, the space may not be available for you to reclaim due to contractual leases.
A Technical Process
Renovating an existing lab or fitting out space in a new location is a highly technical process that will synthesize key input from the life sciences end users and stakeholders to facilitate a functional design that is responsive to their immediate and future science needs. No matter what the renovation scenario is, the first step in the process is to determine how much and what type of space is needed, keeping in mind that it is the size of equipment, equivalent linear feet (ELF) of bench and types and amounts of chemicals to be used and stored are what will drive the design program.
During the pre-design phase known as programming, the architect or lab planner works with the client to establish the project goals and vision to better understand the proposed use of the space while analyzing the client’s program components—square footage, head count, equipment, adjacencies, furnishings, etc.—to determine if sufficient space has been allocated for each function. At this stage, all components and their interrelationships and adjacencies are verified, and program requirements such as major pieces of equipment, chemical usage, and control area strategy are confirmed. The client should be prepared to answer dozens of questions leading to this outcome, some general and some very specific. Examples include:
How many employees should the space accommodate, now and in the future?
What biosafety level will your lab require?
What gases and/or utilities do you anticipate using in this lab?
Do you prefer fixed casework or movable benches?
What type of support spaces are required?
What spaces or departments need to be adjacent or any that need to be segregated?
Provide a list of the chemicals you plan to use in the lab with classifications and amounts.
Provide a list of existing and proposed equipment for this project, including dimensions.
At the conclusion of programming, the architect or lab planner will produce a programming report summarizing their findings, with practical recommendations for optimum lab layouts. The report will include basic information such as total headcount, growth projections, and square footage requirements. Also included will be a description of how the workspace should function, what equipment and furnishings will be retained from the existing workplace, if applicable, and/or replaced with new, and what should be avoided.
The next steps after programming are visioning and a preliminary layout, or test fit. The test fit takes all of the information gleaned during programming and translates it into graphic form. This provides the basis for the schematic design phase, which introduces early design concepts, floor plans, lighting plans, and incorporates an equipment matrix for coordination with mechanical and electrical loads and any required process utilities. It is not uncommon to perform a preliminary cost estimate near the end of this phase.
The design development phase crystallizes favored concepts established during schematic design and finalizes choices involving lighting, finishes, and color. It is at this point that a more accurate cost check can be performed, and the construction manager can prioritize long lead items for early purchase. With the recent supply chain issues, these may include rooftop mechanical equipment, generators, electrical panels or switchgears, lighting, cold rooms, and casework. The last two phases are construction documentation, which produces the final documents and specifications that will be submitted to the city or town for the construction permit, and construction administration, which is oversight of construction to make sure that the design is implemented as intended.
Perhaps the most challenging part of the renovation process is the relocation itself—no one enjoys packing and moving under any circumstances, and especially not when the transport of glassware, samples, reagents, instruments, and sensitive equipment are at stake. This is a job for a laboratory relocation specialist that will manage all facets of your move, including packing and unpacking, decommissioning equipment, establishing IT connections, security, and performing required compliance procedures, among other services. Specialized moving companies that have experience in laboratory moves and relocations are needed. They have the required electrical support to move freezers on their trucks and understand the sensitivity needed in a lab move. Some equipment, such as mass spectrometers and confocal microscopes need to be disassembled, crated, moved, and reassembled by the manufacturer to maintain warranties. Because transport of sensitive equipment can affect settings and performance, calibration and validation once reassembled are critical to the science readiness of the new lab. This needs to be managed appropriately and scheduled well in advance of the actual move.
There may be opportunities to accelerate the project schedule. This is most successfully done when the project team is aligned in their understanding of the client’s goals for the project. When the client is able to internally identify their goals and prioritize the design, the design team can leverage that information and incorporate it into the program for the space, focusing during programming on a finer level of detail that can save time in later phases.
Also, having access to accurate existing condition drawings for the building, including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, and structural, provides the design team with more information about the base building and its existing infrastructure. This information is critical for lab and GMP design. The ability for the design team to include more information in drawings allows the contractor pricing the drawings to provide accurate pricing quicker than if there were unknowns during the design phase.
No matter what its size, scope, or location, a laboratory renovation is a highly specialized project and process that requires dedicated in-house and external teams to see it through to successful completion. Our best advice to all lab managers is twofold: plan ahead, and always incorporate maximum flexibility into the design, because no one truly knows what the future will hold.
By Steve Adams, Banker & Tradesman
Kerrie Julian has enjoyed an up-close perspective on Greater Boston’s powerful life science expansion over the past two decades, advising industry leaders including Biogen, Pfizer and Moderna as an architect at leading local firms. Last June, Julian was named director of science strategy at Margulies Perruzzi, a role that includes project management, staff recruitment and finding new clients. A Wentworth Institute of Technology graduate, Julian’s career has included stints at SMMA, Gensler and Perkins + Will.
Q: With the continuing surge in subleasing activity in Greater Boston’s lab market, what do life science companies looking at those spaces need to know?
A: Some tenants have said: ‘Let me get more space than I really need,’ and sublease it, so we’ve run into that a couple of times. That tenant has to understand there’s a control area, and by code you’re only allowed so many chemicals and the higher you go in a building, the less you can have. Do you share the control area between the two companies? Suddenly, if your science is successful and your growth is faster than you thought, you can’t kick out the subtenant. It’s an interesting dynamic. There are lots of spaces available, but you have to be aware you’re partnering with the right company, subleasing to the right company and that your growth projections are in the right spot for you to do that.
Q: Are you still seeing substantial activity by life science developers for spec suite buildouts, and what are the unique design requirements
A: The spec suites are really geared toward the landlords and developers helping get that tenant on board with minimum construction and design costs. Spec suites are really successful when the base building has an ability to tie into lab infrastructure. Flexibility is another thing, and power requirements. A lot have similar components, such as a tissue culture room. There are a lot of similarities, but there are specific processes they run, so it can become specialized.
Q: Based upon inquiries to your firm, how does lab demand compare to early 2022?
A: It’s an interesting time. There are a lot of lab buildings that are under way, and space that will come online in 2023 and early 2024. It’s really a tenant’s market. It might mean that somebody in an incubator might come out earlier if they have the right deal. It’s great potential for those smaller companies. When there were low vacancy rates, folks were starting to move into the Watertowns and Walthams. Now that space will be coming online in the Boston and Cambridge area, it’ll be on the side of the tenants for better rates and maybe better leasing options.
Q: Is the office-to-lab conversion market drying up?
A: There’s not as much this year, or even in the last six to eight months, as there was during 2021. Not everything can be a lab building. Maybe you can, but the cost is going to be astronomical and your return on investment is going to be so long, landlords aren’t opting to do that. You have to put enough into it to make sure it can work, such as different loading zones to get equipment in and out. One of the architect’s first jobs is to make sure people can get out of the building safely. In a lab building, it’s particularly critical. You have to be careful with the ratings of the floor slab, and making sure the fire won’t creep up into the next space.
Q: Is biomanufacturing demand more stable than R&D space in the current financial market?
A: It is huge. A lot of the manufacturing is coming into Massachusetts for several reasons. We are not going to outsource this to other countries. It needs to be closer to the R&D facilities. They are ready to start making those drugs and you need the land and space, so you’re coming out into the Route 128 and[Interstate] 495 belts to support that large-scale, 100,000- to 150,000-square-foot facility. These industrial properties are either going to become an Amazon distribution center or cGMP for biomanufacturing.
Q: How significant are the changes to lab design under new state and local decarbonization regulations?
A: We have the new edition of the Massachusetts building code coming out, with a higher energy code than previously, and it’s something we’re anticipating being released this summer now that the new administration is on board. With that, there will be some updates. We are doing the best we can, but even with some of the advances in clean energy, they still have a huge draw and need for electricity.
Boston’s Fenway neighborhood has become an “eds and meds” neighborhood and a hub for life science companies. This is due largely to the presence of nine colleges and universities and proximity to the adjacent Longwood Medical and Academic Area, home to 21 medical and academic institutions.
Margulies Perruzzi was retained to retrofit 20 Overland Street in Boston, transforming it from Class B office space into a highly desirable location for a variety of life science tenants. Repositioning the 202,167 SF building for a new and more demanding use required upgrades to its infrastructure to enable demolition of the adjacent building, core and shell upgrades to the first and second floors, and most significantly, a combination of upgrades to and replacement of existing mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems (MEP) to handle the additional loads imposed by laboratory facilities.
The building had been a vehicle manufacturing plant during World War II, and consequently has substantial floor-to-floor heights, ample fenestration for natural light, and plenty of structural capacity. While beneficial, the latter added a level of difficulty when it came to accommodating penetrations for plumbing. The former factory was also equipped with two large freight elevators, which became irrelevant when the building use changed. The design team repurposed one of the shafts as thoroughfares for routing new chilled water, HVAC exhaust ductwork, and generator conduit runs from the first floor and second floors to the roof instead of running these utilities down the side of the building, which is a more common solution.
Based on the structural capacity of 20 Overland, the roof did not need reinforcement for the additional new HVAC equipment, which included supplemental condensing units for cooling and lab exhaust fans. Dunnage—a structural platform for mechanical equipment—was added to support a new lab emergency power generator. Due to seismic design constraints, diesel fuel to power the generator could not be stored on the roof and instead is stored in a specially-design tank room located in the basement.
Upgrades were also made to the lobbies and entrances at both the Overland and Burlington Street entrances to entice more foot traffic in front of the building and to connect with future public circulation. The improvements have already attracted new tenants: Margulies Perruzzi recently completed a 60,000-square-foot interior fit-out for Strand Therapeutics.
Not every building is suitable for conversion to labs. In this case, strategic discussions with the landlord took place before and during the design process regarding future flexibility, building and fire separations between 20 Overland and 109 Brookline, limitations on lab control areas, maximizing available space for lab use, and implementing renovations while minimizing disruption to existing tenants.
Owners thinking about making a similar investment must consider the prospective building’s adaptability to the new use. Zoning, local codes and ordinances, building location, and site amenities such as ease of circulation, access to public transportation, and available parking are all important factors. From a physical standpoint, buildings that have generous floor-to-floor heights, structural integrity, presence of essential utilities, capacity for enhanced utilities, flexibility to appeal to different types of tenants, and availability of first floor space for chemical storage, are prime candidates for repositioning.