With the expectation that many companies will reduce, if not abandon, their office space post pandemic, there is an alternative solution that should be considered when planning the future use of empty commercial buildings – and the answer lies in science.

Richard Walder

Richard Walder

Scientific research was already a high-growth area before Covid-19 and the government sees the sector as critical to the UK’s economic recovery. Demand for specialist life sciences space – specifically laboratories – has accelerated; we’re now regularly receiving proactive requests for information about repurposing offices to labs from building owners, developers and investors, so they can take advantage of this fast-evolving area.

Whether working with the physical limitations of space designed for administrative activities or upgrading building services to meet laboratory air-change rates, the investment required to regenerate commercial spaces for scientific uses requires deep understanding of the sector.

This is why getting strategic advice from the outset is key to ensuring that value is delivered through flexibility, so the space can accommodate changes in science over time and adapt to changing briefs. For the right facilities in the right location, this conversion can yield good returns, but owners and developers should first understand the type of tenant they want and therefore how a building is refitted.

Science lab

Source: Shutterstock / Timof

To help manage the risk, we’ve created a rapid assessment tool to determine the suitability of potential conversion projects, which measures key metrics from spatial constraints to design flexibility, including metrics on technical issues such as air handling and connection to utility infrastructure. We expect to see this transformation trend increase over the coming years, which is why owners, developers and investors need to be aware of the opportunities available, get early strategic advice and understand the level of fit-out required once they’ve identified their target tenants. It’s an exciting challenge to have.

Richard Walder is associate director at Buro Happold