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

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

The surge in demand for new medicines, particularly in the last 12 months, is driving demand for suitable science hubs and lab space.  That, in turn, is placing pressure on the construction industry’s capacity to deliver new builds.

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

Reasons to Repurpose


At the heart of the issue is the need to deliver these spaces quickly.  Retrofitting an existing building should see significant programme wins, when compared with demolishing and building anew. 


Retrofitting an existing building may be cheaper than demolishing and rebuilding.  Existing connections for transportation and utilities (water, sewers etc) should see lower infrastructure costs for the build. 

Curb landfill space

Re-using existing buildings, including those parts with long-life durability such as concrete and steel, will reduce emissions and waste.


Developers want to bring ‘lab ready’ spaces to the market.  To do this, they need versatile, multi-purpose spaces which not only consider life sciences ‘must haves’ but also the need for office space, for flexible use to suit market need.

The modifications required for flexible use, such as floor-to-floor heights, ESG requirement, sound and hazard management, and adaptable building cores can be expensive.  We are seeing developers in the US instead looking at ‘big box’ spaces which are easier to adapt and therefore sell.  By way of example, a UK project known as “The Works” started out life as a former industrial shed which once housed a car body repair shop.  NBBJ transformed into a flexible R&D work environment outside of Cambridge, creating 63,000ft² of flexible office/lab space.

It is only a matter of time before this ‘big box’ trend we are seeing in the US catches on in the UK; driving growth both within the typical life sciences corridor and other locations, with buildings better suited to re-purposing.