Mark Curley

11th May 2021

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Designing Lab-Ready Offices


Given the speed at which commercial science can move and change – the development of a COVID-19 vaccine is just one recent example – it should come as no surprise that the way we design and think about laboratories is rapidly changing too. Smaller science and technology start-ups are driving much of this change, so that developers are now looking for more flexible approaches to designing commercial space, with the hope that a standard office can be partly or even fully converted to a lab in the future. There’s a mutual advantage to this kind of flexibility: lab rentals tend to provide higher value to a landlord, while the tenants benefit from a space which they can easily configure to meet quite specialist needs.

We’ve seen most of this activity take place in Central London, Oxford and Cambridge – a fact that should surprise no one, given the proximity of major universities and research organisations. As Corde has local studios in all three of these cities, we’ve advised plenty of clients on exactly this kind of flexible approach, and can share some of what we’ve learned during these projects.

It’s important to carry out a test fit when considering whether an office could feasibly accommodate lab tenants. This involves looking at the core needs for this sort of conversion, asking questions such as:

  • How flexible is the space? Can it serve a variety of laboratory functions?
  • Are there good floor-to-soffit heights? (We recommend at least 3.2m.)
  • Could we accommodate modular lab space (typically 3.4 x 11m, with an adjacent corridor)?
  • Is there space for heavy equipment in the lab? Is there roof space for dedicated ventilation and cooling plant?
  • Can we safely increase the power supply, ventilation rates and cooling loads for the demands of specialist equipment?
  • Can we accommodate servicing requirements – such as gas storage, and deliveries of equipment or resources? Could the space need a separate goods lift (or space to accommodate one)?
  • Can we install an exhaust chimney for any chemistry-based research?
  • Can we add a separate laboratory drain line?

However many potential needs you might consider at this stage, it’s impossible to take account of the hugely variable and specialised requirements of different laboratories – not to mention the higher rate of turnover for laboratory tenants. For that reason, we’d generally develop these spaces to shell and core, and leave plenty of options for adaptation.

It’s not simply offices that are undergoing this transformation of perspective. We’ve worked on projects that build “lab-ready” flexibility into retail spaces, warehouses, and even some more unusual building types. This has presented some unusual challenges, but has also allowed us to grow the depth of experience required to approach similar projects with confidence, providing a quick, high-level appraisal that can kickstart conversations and stimulate new ideas.

If you’re interested in hearing more about our work on lab-ready offices, or want to speak about a project of your own, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.