Repurposing of Building Stock for Labs - Sustainable, Yet Challenging

Jonathan Eisenberg, Arup
Carl Crow, Arup

Renovation and re-purposing of existing buildings for laboratory use is an excellent example of sustainable design. Project types can include older lab construction being updated to the latest systems, a single-tenant facility converted to multi-tenant, and an office or other use building transformed for lab use. In urban areas with private biotech clusters and research institutions such as Cambridge or Boston, available land for new lab construction comes at a premium. Reconstruction of older buildings to meet today's lab process needs presents an attractive approach for developers, designers, and prospective tenants. However, this sustainable development and design method brings several interesting challenges and questions.

From an engineering design standpoint, existing lab ventilation systems likely have antiquated designs, and balancing may be difficult if not impossible. Leaky building envelopes often need to be sufficiently sealed to allow systems to function properly. Opportunities abound for improvements to the carbon footprint, such as energy recovery from exhaust and electrical system efficiencies. Control systems are available for turn-down of air change rates. Non-traditional lab ceiling heights present engineering and architectural challenges. On the compliance side, the lack of existing structural fire resistance makes it tough to maximize the number of control areas for user flexibility. Archaic structural fire resistance can be used to demonstrate equivalence to today's codes. Changes to multi-tenant designs brings an increase in complexity for management of hazardous materials vs. exempt amounts/MAQs. Incorporation of current code requirements for active systems such as hazardous exhaust, classified electrical equipment, and containment/drainage needs creative thinking from the design community.

Learning Objectives

  • Discuss many options for conversion of existing buildings to new lab facilities, including single to multi-tenant and change of use
  • Learn about ventilation design considerations, including balancing and turn down of air change rates
  • Look at structural fire resistance and how it impacts selection and re-design of existing lab buildings
  • Consider the latest building and fire code requirements, and how they are achieved in re-purposing of an older facility


Jonathan Eisenberg is an Associate Principal at Arup with over 25 years of fire protection engineering, chemical engineering, and chemical process facilities management experience. He is a nationally known expert in industrial, chemical, and laboratory fire protection and hazard analysis, and is a frequently published author and speaker on industrial and laboratory fire protection topics.

Carl Crow is an Associate Principal at Arup with over 34 years of experience in the engineering and construction industry specializing in the design and specification of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems for a wide variety of project types including laboratories, data centers, clean rooms and healthcare facilities.


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