A day spent recently in an empty and unoccupied building close by to University College Hospital was both entertaining and informative…


This was the setting for a conference entitled LIFE SCIENCES AND INNOVATION REAL ESTATE ANNUAL CONFERENCE held in a soon to be converted office into a Life Sciences facility.

What is the equation which answers the question, what does success look like for a life sciences facility?

I concluded that it needs a scientist to tell us but the few in attendance were completely outnumbered by the property professionals in the room and were just as elusive as the answer.

Scientists want the same  sort of things that we all want , but they just want more of it.

For example Power, they need anywhere up to 5 times more energy than a conventional office and sometimes more. Water, well don’t even mention it especially if you are in Cambridge  which apparently has none to spare and not just that, pretty soon the lights might go out as well.

Apart from that the Scientists need a nice place to work, where everything does work-smoothly. Not an unreasonable expectation but here we are not talking about a BCO standard office building but a highly technical building with zoned strict environmental requirements, storage requirements, daily deliveries and demanding security arrangements.

These buildings are populated by people who our lives and those of future generations may well depend on. Their work  is demanding and is being  carried out by some of the brightest brains in our society.

The density of human intellectual capital in these buildings must rank alongside the density of Intellectual property.  So although social amenity space for those water cooler /coffee machine moments are vital for the appropriate level of interaction, so too is the space for quiet reflection, whether in an city setting, urban setting or on  campus. However,  just like a retailer, your occupier will  want to be in the prime pitch where the  brand of the neighbour is equally important  to the occupier and their funder.

All of these things drive the answer to Science and Innovation business needs towards being clustered.  The businesses that  will occupy the highly desirable space we design need scale- ability  and now we are talking of a campus, where a lot of people will come to work.

So how do they get there?   Well ideally with good public transport links from  their home along routes with great fibre infrastructure to facilitate work along the way.  Good public transport links are key, especially in the context of businesses carbon footprint. But we must not take housing for granted, Cambridge forecasts an acute shortage.

Housing availability is key, good quality in the right environment and of course at the right price point.

Scaleability is needed  like yesterday and that’s a real challenge, what size and what type do you speculate on in anticipation? A lot of endeavours don’t succeed and American developers, who have catered for this highly refined audience for a good many years won’t spec more than 5,000sq ft. The costs are high and whilst rental levels for lab space are probably 3 times that of standard industrial rents, with Good Manufacturing space achieving a premium of around £10 per sq ft above the benchmark of industrial space, flexibility always comes at a premium but even more so  for these type of occupational uses.

But when these incubators hit the jackpot, you want to be there alongside them on their journey to reap the rewards. From the beginning of the journey active management is key for retention, acceleration programmes to support the business growth, helping the customer ultimately helps you.

How do we fit in ESG and Carbon Net Zero?  It is perhaps a little easier to imagine ways in which Environmental and Social Value metrics can be enhanced within a campus environment, but there are competitive requirements within the specification of  buildings.  Structural Engineers, are responsible for the embodied carbon by a long stretch. Most of the embodied carbon is associated with concrete and the floor structures are the culprit.  The challenge is managing the low tolerance to vibration of sensitive lab equipment and just how bouncy the floor is; the Response Factor ( RF) of the floor under normal load conditions, such as moving equipment about or simply people moving around the building. To get a low RF, the solution is typically a stiff concrete frame with more concrete than is normally needed for say for example an office. Of course, it would be great if you can locate the labs and their sensitive equipment on the ground floor.

Interestingly and subject to catchment the carbon expended in travel can be much more significant than the embodied carbon in a building.

Its seems then that the addage, Location Location and Location, is as it ever was, the critical criteria for investment, but then given the range of occupiers’ requirements that can come under the Life Sciences umbrella, knowing your market and your target audience very well  seems to be the only way to de-risk your investment and move forward with confidence.

RORY O’CONNOR – Managing Director