8 Place Prompts for Lively Life Sciences

Five years is all it’s taken for life sciences to jump from the fringes of place experience conversations, to a key use at the heart of many developments MurrayTwohig advises on.

Life science spaces and users now feature in complex urban masterplans like developer Sterling Bay’s Lincoln Yards in Chicago; and we are seeing leading institutions partner with entrepreneurial and creative developers such as at Enterprise Research Campus (Harvard and Tishman Speyer), Begbroke Innovation District (Oxford University Development) and The Ohio State University Innovation District (with Tishman Speyer), to together create mixed-use places that spark innovation – and market demand.

In many ways, a great, loved, successful life science place shares much in common with great, loved, successful places of any kind – but there are some important nuances. Here, we’re sharing eight Place Prompts for creating lively and loved development projects which help life science tenants thrive, that we challenge every real estate team operating in this space to contemplate and embrace.

Serendipity Through Proximity

The co-location of users and visitors operating in different facets of the industry (venture capital co-located with scientists, for example), coupled with places and programming that provides platforms for ‘human collisions’, amplifies the value of and demand for space in research and  innovation clusters.

Incubating Ideas

Real estate leaders are incorporating life science incubator space, with mentorship programs and business training, to catapult new ideas – and offer value to their tenant pool, too. This typology of makerspace or coworking space is newer but appears to be growing.

Partnership Working

Many successful life science districts have been grown alongside universities, with varying degrees of formality or informality in that relationship and co-location. Colocating academic research, private research and supporting business functions contributes to tenant demand; developments without that mix in a competitive landscape may need to lean even harder on other aspects of their offer (pricepoint or location centrality, as examples).

From Mono-Use to Mixed-Use

Multiple built typologies of life science districts have enjoyed success. Some of the early successes were campuses or business park environments – succeeding as a series of standalone buildings, often with easy vehicle access, dominated by a single industry and often with little in terms of ground floor activation, public spaces or other uses. Now, there is a growing appetite from both tenants and developers for life science space in denser, urban and mixed-use environments, like those MurrayTwohig projects we highlighted in our introduction.

Talent-Targeted Amenisation

Given their extensive educational training, leading life scientists are often older and have families, compared to many other industries (tech, for example). The kinds of amenities, programmes and placemaking strategies that appeal to this audience should also be different – for example, workplace creches or on-site summer camps may be amenities well-suited to workers and their lifestage.

Artistic Inspiration

Industry-leading and award-winning scientists are more likely than the general population to have meaningful artistic hobbies. Psychologist and author Adam Grant shares that “Nobel Prize-winners are twice as likely to play a musical instrument, they’re seven times as likely to draw or paint, 12 times as likely to write fiction or poetry, and — get this — 22 times as likely as their peers to perform as actors, dancers, or, yes, magicians”. Programming and amenities should offer opportunities for curiosity, creativity and expression.

A 24/7 Place

The nature of research and experimentation means that some workers must utilise the space throughout the day, and all week long; remote work is also not possible to the same extent for many of these people. Even more so than ‘typical’ workplaces, life science work environments need to be welcoming and convenient 24/7.

Purpose Built

Life science businesses are more likely to require bespoke workspace for a wide range of considerations like security, ventilation, and climate control. Retrofit or conversion from other uses is therefore difficult, driving demand for purpose-built space. This built specificity can also create difficult street frontage, which should be considered and addressed in building design and ground plane treatment.