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Studying science in the sky


Studying science in the sky

An architecture firm’s prototype for a life sciences tower defies tradition by building up.

By Novid Parsi, Contributing Editor | March 11, 2022
Vertical Cluster Ext
SGA doesn't think science buildings have to be low-rise.

In sharp contrast to other types of commercial real estate, the life sciences market is booming, according to SGA, an architecture firm based in Boston and New York that has extensive experience designing life sciences buildings. “There’s increased demand to deliver life sciences towers in dense urban environments,” Brooks Slocum, SGA’s studio director, writes in a blog post. 

But while cities need these buildings, urban environments pose a fundamental challenge: “In the past, opportunities to build labs in places like New York City were limited by the lack of square footage on the ground,” Slocum writes.

Traditionally, life sciences buildings have been low-rise facilities. SGA thinks that doesn’t have to be the case.

SGA has designed a prototype complex it calls the Vertical Cluster, a proposed 24-story, 750,000-square-foot tower with wet and dry labs. Reflecting local zoning and building codes, the vertical tower can stack diverse programming needs typically found in horizontal life-sciences complexes. 

Cluster Int

Slocum describes the tower as essentially comprising multiple shorter buildings stacked on top of each other. “Every 10 or 12 floors, we ‘separate’ the building by putting in multi-floor mechanical zones.” This not only isolates the mechanical zones but also avoids overburdening the building with ventilation shafts running from the bottom of the building to the top. This approach allows SGA to design life sciences facilities as tall as zoning allows.

Stacked Cluster
The cluster is multiple shorter buildings stacked on top of each other.

There’s a widespread misconception, according to Slocum, that all lab building exhaust must be moved to a building’s roof. That results in shafts becoming progressively larger on higher floors—with a corresponding reduction in rentable space. But it’s only the exhaust from fume hoods that’s contaminated and requires rooftop exhaust. Most of the air in a lab building comes from the offices—and that air can be recirculated via the mechanical zones.

“With proper design, we can plan the upper floors to have more rentable area available to tenants than on the lower floors, not less,” Slocum writes. 

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