SGA Architects’ Brooks Slocum Explains the Life Sciences Boom

By Published On: May 19, 20224.3 min read

The life sciences market in commercial real estate is continuing to grow, with a boom for more lab space. That expansion includes pharmaceutical, biotech, research and medical buildings.

Without a doubt, labs have been in demand during the Covid-19 pandemic. According to a recent report from CBRE, over 31 million square feet of life-sciences space — including biotech, pharmaceutical and other labs — were under development in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Now, the soar continues throughout 2022, as research and development for vaccines continues. It isn’t just new construction, but conversion of existing office buildings, too. Many of these life sciences buildings are in the emerging markets of San Francisco, Boston, Denver, Los Angeles and Chicago, among others.

One architecture firm specializing in life sciences buildings is SGA Architecture, which is based in both New York City and Boston. The company is meeting the growing demand for lab and research space in this CRE market.

Their featured projects from 2021 include Boynton Yards in Somerville, MA., a 290,000-square-foot research building for life science companies, as well as Two Drydock in Boston, MA., an office tower for tech companies in the city’s Drydock district.

A rendering of Boynton Yards

Boynton Yards | Image provided by SGA Architects

A rendering of the labs in Boynton Yards

Boynton Yards | Image provided by SGA Architects

A glass-covered building is rendered among scattered greeneries.

Two Drydock | Image provided by SGA Architects

Electronics snake up a wall of a labratory.

Two Drydock | Image provided by SGA Architects

Another key lab designed by SGA Architects is 95 Greene Street, which serves as Jersey City’s first lab-ready office space. This eight-story, 350,000-square-foot building is being turned into a property for pharmaceutical, green tech, ag-tech, healthcare and medical tenants with a building that has sleek, modern design that feels like a lab-office hybrid space, something we will likely see more of in the years to come.

A rendering of 95 Green Street.

95 Green Street | Image provided by SGA Architects

A rendering of an office interior.

95 Green Street | Image provided by SGA Architects

The firm has also recently completed other projects that include the Heights at Haverhill, the Citizens Bank, 90 Arboretum and Peabody College at Vanderbilt University.

The lead architect for 95 Greene Street is Brooks Slocum, AIA, the Studio Director of SGA, who talked to about the rise of life sciences and what is expected for this sector in 2022 and beyond.

Why is the life sciences market growing so quickly, and what approach do you bring that’s so effective and in-demand?

During the pandemic, the life sciences sector is booming. The global spotlight on the life sciences sector is increasing demand for research and development facilities in response to COVID-19 and future healthcare challenges. The pace of science has accelerated by necessity — and there is no sign of it slowing down.

SGA is advancing architecture and engineering innovation by designing for adaptability — the firm strives to create environments that enhance research productivity at their core. SGA is at the forefront of life sciences facilities that feature flexible infrastructure, de-mountable casework and modular mechanical systems designed to accommodate new and evolving uses.

How is 95 Greene Street in Jersey City a leader in lab design? I ask because it feels a bit like a lab-office hybrid space, something we will likely see more of in the years to come.

95 Greene Street is the first lab-ready life sciences property in Jersey City. The construction of pre-built laboratories is the best way to enable the local life sciences field to grow, because step-out or graduation space is the next type of facility that startups typically require as they exit accelerators and incubators.

When a life sciences client comes to you, what do they ask for design-wise, more than anything else, and what trends do you see coming in 2022 and beyond?

While there is considerable variation at the extremes, the bulk of research and development (R&D) tenants in the mature markets are seeking BSL-2 bench lab space, which follows a similar pattern; roughly 60% of open lab space is made up of standardized, flexible bench services from overhead. These can be removed and replaced with floor-standing specialty equipment or equipment on tables as needed; this is often robotic testing or batching equipment. Roughly 40% of lab support rooms, including cold rooms, microscopy suites, and specialty equipment rooms for various imaging or characterization technologies, have various supply and waste storage spaces, and multiple tissue culture rooms.

Where are most of your developments?

Most of the development is in biopharma R&D and is in urban areas. Outside of major biopharma R&D clusters, a broader spectrum of tenants occupy the bench lab space, including R&D and small-scale manufacturing for dietary supplements, medical devices, or specialty electronics. A notable emerging specialty is better technology R&D. As the market matures, lab space at every scale and type has become commoditized by intermediaries who lease and manage space to individual tenants. With the incredible volume of investment, it creates intense competition for speed-to-market.

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