By: Brooks Slocum
Life Sciences facilities are reaching new heights that have not been seen before.
Until recently, Life Sciences buildings were almost always conceived as low-rise facilities. But we at SGA have been applying our extensive experience in designing Life Sciences buildings into a solution for high-rise Life Sciences and mixed-use buildings. We believe that, with the proper team of experts and consultants and an understanding of the necessary design considerations, the sky’s the limit for the state-of-the-art lab towers of the future.
“There’s increased demand to deliver Life Sciences towers in dense urban environments, ” says Brooks Slocum AIA, SGA’s Studio Director. For one thing, the Life Sciences market is booming, in sharp contrast to other types of commercial real estate. “In the past, opportunities to build labs in places like New York City were limited by the lack of square footage on the ground.”
Slocum and his team have solved the problem by creating a building type that he characterizes as essentially being multiple shorter buildings stacked on top of each other. “Every ten or twelve floors, we ‘separate’ the building by putting in multi-floor mechanical zones. Our approach isolates the mechanical zones and does not overburden the building with ventilation shafts going from the bottom of the building to the top. With this method, we can design Life Sciences facilities as tall as zoning will allow.”
There’s a widespread misconception, Slocum says, that all lab building exhaust must be transported to a building’s roof, meaning that shafts would become progressively larger on higher floors, with a reduction in rentable space to match. “Most of the air in a lab building is not contaminated; only the exhaust from fume hoods is. That air requires rooftop exhaust. Whereas the air from the offices can be recirculated via the mechanical zones.” The result, he notes, is that a Life Sciences Tower will have cleaner air than one might find outside. “With proper design, we can plan the upper floors to have more rentable area available to tenants than on the lower floors, not less.”
Another typical concern, Slocum says, involves the idea that labs on higher floors may not be able to store enough of the chemicals they need to function. “Once we get above the ninth floor,” Slocum says, “the allowable quantities don’t change. They’re the same on the 40th floor as on the tenth.” Plenty, he says, for most users. “Science today tends more toward biology or data science than the old heavy-chemistry approach of days gone by, and we can accommodate even heavy chemical users at the top of the building, with proper chemical inventory management. The chemicals can be stored on a lower floor and accessed as needed.” The Life Sciences Tower is flexible by design, making it an attractive option even for developers or owners who aren’t sure they want to devote an entire building to Life Sciences. “We’re building in modules,” Slocum says, “so the top of the building can be offices or even residences, and you’d have the option to convert them to Life Sciences in the future.” But he maintains that high-end biomedical and pharmaceutical corporations will be very attracted to these kinds of buildings. “Elite scientists, like their high-level executive peers, enjoy high-rise views as much as anyone else.”