Life sciences and construction: will the repurposing meet the demand for new laboratory space?

The UK government is pushing the life sciences forward and this has huge potential to lead the charge in the upgrading campaign. During her campaign to become PM, Liz Truss tweeted:

“Life sciences are at the heart of my vision to build a country ready for the future”

The surge in demand for new drugs, especially in the last 12 months, is driving the demand for science hubs and suitable laboratory space. This, in turn, puts pressure on the ability of the construction industry to deliver new construction.

Developers are going to have to think outside the box. Could the repurposing of offices, warehouses and other types of buildings be a solution?

Reasons to reuse


At the heart of the problem is the need to quickly deliver these spaces. The renovation of an existing building should result in significant gains in the program, compared to demolition and new construction.


Renovating an existing building can be less expensive than tearing it down and rebuilding it. Existing connections for transportation and utilities (water, sewer, etc.) should result in lower infrastructure costs for construction.

Border landfill space

Reusing existing buildings, including long-lived elements such as concrete and steel, will reduce emissions and waste.


Developers want to market “laboratory-ready” spaces. To do this, they need versatile and flexible spaces that not only take into account life sciences “must haves”, but also the need for office space, for flexible use according to market needs.

Modifications required for flexible use, such as floor-to-floor heights, ESG requirements, noise and risk management, and adaptable building cores can be costly. We see developers in the United States rather turning to “big box” spaces which are easier to adapt and therefore sell. As an example, a UK project known as ‘The Works’ started life as an old industrial shed that once housed a body repair shop. NBBJ has transformed into a flexible R&D work environment outside of Cambridge, creating 63,000 square feet of flexible office/lab space.

It’s only a matter of time before this ‘big box’ trend we’re seeing in the US spills over to the UK; drive growth both in the typical life sciences corridor and in other locations, with buildings better suited for repurposing.

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