Developers, builders, and CRE investors face unique challenges when they’re looking to renovate existing buildings or build new structures for life science companies.
Life science buildings must cater to the specific needs of scientific researchers and experimenters. Understanding these specialized elements is vital for creating cutting-edge facilities that promote scientific innovation while ensuring safety and efficiency. In this article, we will discuss some of the top features that a life science building should have and why they are considered integral for such buildings.
First, a quick review of what life science buildings are: This type of commercial real estate primarily falls into research and development (R&D) and biomanufacturing. Within these categories, there are distinct types of buildings, including wet labs and dry labs. Wet labs are defined as life science buildings where biological materials might be handled, tested, and analyzed. Dry labs, on the other hand, deal with data, mathematics, algorithmic modeling, and desktop analyses. Chemistry labs are another type of life science laboratory where R&D for new drugs, personal care products, or other life science-related applications might take place.
Each type of life science building has a range of specialized requirements that must be considered by developers planning to build or renovate the property for the life sciences.
Critical Features Needed for Life Science Building Development
The following features are commonly required for life science real estate developments.
1. Vibration control
Life science buildings require vibration control because building vibrations can impact the accuracy and integrity of scientific research and experimentation, especially in wet and chemistry labs. For example, life science buildings may house sophisticated scientific instruments and equipment that are highly sensitive to vibrations. These vibrations can disrupt precise measurements and affect the reliability of experimental results. For building designers and engineers, this means …
Maintaining stable vibration conditions to ensure the reproducibility of experiments; inconsistent vibration levels can introduce variability between experiments.
Incorporating vibration control measures to help minimize disturbances that can affect the performance of sensitive scientific equipment.
Using specialized engineering and construction techniques and materials, such as isolated foundations, floating floors, and vibration-absorbing materials.
2. Hazardous material handling
The types of hazardous materials used in life science research have the potential to harm people and the environment if not handled properly — plus local laws require specific handling of hazardous and biohazardous materials. So, CRE builders in life sciences must …
Create designated areas and protocols for the safe handling, storage, and disposal of hazardous materials and waste. This includes chemicals, radioactive substances, biological agents, and potentially infectious biohazardous materials.
Implement safety systems, such as emergency showers, eyewash stations, and spill containment measures, so tenants and occupants can maintain safe working conditions and meet OSHA, EPA, and other governmental requirements.
Pay attention to and stay up to date on regulatory compliance, contamination prevention, and emergency preparedness for properties that use hazardous materials.
3. Mechanical separation
Mechanical separation refers to the need to maintain controlled and isolated environments for research activities, for example separating life science laboratories from life science office spaces. This mechanical separation prevents contamination and ensures safety compliance, for example by physically separating the outputs from the building’s operational equipment and machinery from the life science company’s equipment and machinery. Additionally ...
Life science buildings require the separation of laboratory spaces to prevent cross-contamination between various types of research to maintain the integrity of experiments.
Mechanical separation is also a safety feature that helps prevent the escape of dangerous substances, minimizing risk to both researchers and the environment.
Proper mechanical separation assists with noise and vibration control and can contribute to more efficient use of space.
4. Ventilation systems
As you’d imagine, life science buildings have specific ventilation systems requirements for maintaining air quality, controlling contamination, and providing researchers with a safe and healthy environment. They are essential for odor, fume, temperature, and humidity control. So, life science buildings need …
Robust ventilation systems with adequate air exchanges to remove chemical fumes, odors, and airborne contaminants to protect occupants from hazardous substances.
Ventilation systems that minimize the risk of transmission of hazardous waste to other parts of the building.
Builders, developers and architects must understand stringent OSHA regulations and federal and local guidelines regarding air quality and ventilation that are required for life science buildings.
5. Collaboration and education facilities
Life science buildings need to have space that supports the collaborative nature of scientific research and interdisciplinary interactions. In other words, they might require classroom-like spaces or meeting and auditorium-style presentation spaces.
Collaborative spaces foster interdisciplinary interactions and teamwork among researchers.
The integration of communication technologies, including video conferencing and data-sharing platforms, facilitates collaboration both within and outside the building.
Collaborative spaces that feature shared resources like specialized equipment are cost-effective solutions for developing life science buildings.
6. Workflow flexibility
The dynamic nature of scientific research and the need to adapt to evolving technologies, research methodologies, and collaborations make smart workflow design and flexibility necessary when developing life science buildings. Developers, therefore, should …
Incorporate flexible floor plans and adaptable infrastructure helps accommodate evolving research needs and changing scientific technologies.
Design modular construction and movable partitions to allow for easy reconfiguration of laboratory spaces as research requirements evolve.
Adopt a flexible building design to allow for scalability, enabling the building to accommodate increased research capacity, additional staff, or the establishment of new research programs.
Life sciences buildings are dynamic and must be tailored to fit the occupants' research needs, local regulations, and institutional requirements. And while these are only some of the considerations required for life sciences buildings, they demonstrate the challenges inherent to developing property for use in research and development and biomanufacturing.
Resources for Life Science Building Developers, Engineers, and Related Businesses
For further understanding of what life science buildings require, here are more resources for learning about and staying up to date:
Biscred’s Life Sciences comprehensive guide
US Food and Drug Administration: Title 21: Code of Regulations for food and drugs, including biologics in subchapter F
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Ventilation requirements for buildings, in general
Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Safety and health standards for laboratories
Additionally, life science companies need to know individual state building codes as well as local municipalities’ requirements (county, city and townships, for example).