Kerri Funderburk 3/13/2024

Breathing New Life into Vacant Buildings through Adaptive Reuse

Adaptive reuse refers to the process of repurposing an existing building for a new use other than its original purpose. This involvesmodifying the structure, layout, and potentially the exterior to suit the new function. It’s essentially giving an old building a second life and a new purpose, instead of demolishing it and constructing something new.

By 2050, it is estimated that 90% of the population will live in urban areas. This forces property owners to reconsider how they operate and develop new properties. Adaptive reuse is a solution to the ever-evolving needs of the cityscape and by choosing properties with this concept in mind, a building built for a corporate office could be repurposed as a manufacturing facility or life science lab.

Adaptive reuse is a strategic approach that presents a valuable opportunity for life science companies to secure a presence in cities facing challenging real estate markets. By repurposing existing structures, such as old or vacant buildings, these companies can establish their occupancy in a cost-effective and sustainable manner.

Preserving Historical and Architectural Value & Urban Renewal and Community Development

Adaptive reuse plays a crucial role in preserving the historical and architectural value of our built environment and contributes to urban renewal and community development. By creatively reimagining existing structures, we can:

  • Preserve history and character: Older buildings often hold historical significance and contribute to the unique character of a city. Adaptive reuse allows us to preserve these landmarks and tell the stories they embody, fostering a sense of identity and place for residents.
  • Promote sustainability: Demolishing and rebuilding structures is resource-intensive, generating significant waste and carbon emissions. Adaptive reuse minimizes these environmental impacts by reusing existing materials and infrastructure, promoting a more sustainable approach to urban development.
  • Enhance economic vitality: Revitalized buildings can attract new businesses, residents, and investment, stimulating economic growth in previously neglected areas. This can create jobs, boost property values, and generate tax revenue for the city.
  • Create vibrant communities: Adaptive reuse projects can breathe new life into neighborhoods, fostering a sense of community and placemaking. Mixed-use developments incorporating residential, commercial, and cultural spaces can create vibrant, walkable, and sustainable communities.
  • Revitalizing underutilized areas: Transforming abandoned buildings into functional spaces can revitalize neglected areas, improving safety, aesthetics, and attracting further investment.
    Promoting mixed-use development: Creating mixed-use spaces that cater to diverse needs, fostering a sense of vibrancy and encouraging pedestrian activity.
  • Preserving cultural heritage: These buildings can serve as cultural hubs, housing museums, art galleries, or performance spaces, strengthening the cultural identity of a community.
  • Encouraging community engagement: The process of adaptive reuse often involves community participation, fostering a sense of ownership and engagement among residents, leading to more sustainable and inclusive development.

Benefits of Adaptive Reuse for Life Science Companies

In the dynamic and fast-paced world of life sciences, adaptive reuse presents a compelling set of advantages for companies seeking efficient and strategic growth. Here’s how:

Cost-Effective Solutions:

  • Reduced construction costs: Compared to ground-up construction, adaptive reuse projects often require significantly lower upfront costs. Existing structural elements, foundations, and utilities can be repurposed, minimizing expenses associated with new materials and extensive construction.
  • Faster project timelines: Adapting existing buildings typically takes less time than new construction, allowing companies to occupy their space quicker and begin operations sooner. This expedited process is crucial for fast-moving startups and companies seeking to capitalize on emerging opportunities.
  • Financial incentives: Many governments and municipalities offer tax breaks and financial incentives to encourage adaptive reuse projects. These incentives can further reduce costs and make this approach even more attractive for life science companies.

Establishing Occupancy in Challenging Markets:

  • Increased availability in tight markets: In cities with limited new lab space and high demand, adaptive reuse offers access to potential locations that might not be readily available through traditional means. This allows companies to establish themselves in desirable locations and leverage existing infrastructure and amenities.
  • Rejuvenating underutilized spaces: Revitalizing vacant or underutilized buildings in established commercial districts can create new opportunities for life science companies, contributing to the overall economic revitalization of the area.

Leveraging Existing Infrastructure and Amenities:

  • Efficient utilization of existing utilities: Buildings designed for other purposes often possess existing infrastructure like plumbing, electrical systems, and ventilation, which can be adapted to meet the specific needs of life science labs with significant cost savings.
  • Proximity to established amenities: Adaptive reuse projects are often located in areas with existing transportation networks, restaurants, housing, and other essential amenities, offering convenience and improved accessibility for employees and collaborators.
  • Unique and collaborative environments: Repurposing historic buildings can create distinctive and inspiring workspaces that foster creativity and collaboration, potentially attracting and retaining top talent in the competitive life science industry.

By embracing adaptive reuse, life science companies can benefit from significant cost savings, faster occupancy, and access to strategic locations with established infrastructure and amenities. This approach supports sustainable development practices and positions companies for success in the ever-evolving life science landscape.

Important Considerations for Biosafety and Cleanroom Listings

Converting a commercial building into a life science lab through adaptive reuse requires careful consideration of biosafety and cleanroom listings. Here are some key points to remember:

Biosafety Listings:

  • Biosafety Levels (BSLs): The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines four biosafety levels (BSL-1 to BSL-4) based on the risk posed by biological agents. The BSL level determines the specific containment measures required for the lab.
  • Risk Assessment: A comprehensive risk assessment should be conducted to identify the biological agents used in the lab and determine the appropriate BSL level. This assessment will inform the design and construction modifications needed to meet biosafety requirements.
  • Containment Features: Depending on the BSL level, specific containment features may be required, such as:
    • Physical barriers: Sealed walls, self-closing doors, and negative pressure differentials to prevent the escape of biological agents.
      Engineering controls: Biosafety cabinets, ventilation systems with HEPA filters, and waste disposal systems designed to safely handle hazardous materials.
    • Administrative controls: Standard operating procedures, training for personnel, and personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols.
    • Regulatory Compliance: The lab must comply with all applicable federal, state, and local regulations regarding biosafety. This may involve obtaining permits, registering with regulatory agencies, and undergoing inspections.

Cleanroom Listings:

  • Cleanroom Classifications: Cleanrooms are classified based on the level of airborne particles allowed within the space. The required classification depends on the specific needs of the laboratory activities.
  • Air Filtration Systems: High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are essential for cleanrooms to remove particles from the air. The specific type and number of filters will depend on the required cleanroom classification.
  • Environmental Controls: Temperature, humidity, and pressure must be tightly controlled within cleanrooms to maintain air quality and prevent contamination.
  • Construction Materials: Materials used in the construction of the cleanroom, such as walls, floors, and ceilings, must be smooth, non-shedding, and easy to clean.
  • Operational Procedures: Strict protocols are needed to maintain cleanliness within the cleanroom, including gowning procedures, proper handling of materials, and regular cleaning and disinfection.

Additional Considerations:

  • Existing Building Suitability: The existing building’s structural integrity, layout, and available utilities must be assessed to determine its suitability for conversion into a lab space.
  • Expert Consultation: Consulting with experts in biosafety, cleanroom design, and construction is crucial to ensure the project meets all necessary requirements and operates safely and efficiently.
  • Cost-benefit Analysis: While adaptive reuse can offer cost advantages, carefully evaluate the modifications needed to meet biosafety and cleanroom standards to ensure the project remains financially viable.

By carefully considering these factors and seeking expert guidance, converting a commercial building into a life science lab through adaptive reuse can be a successful and sustainable approach.

Examples of Properties Subject to Adaptive Reuse

A wide range of structures can be considered for adaptive reuse, including:

Industrial buildings: Warehouses, factories, and power plants can be transformed into offices, residential spaces, lab space, art studios, or cultural centers.

Commercial buildings: Old office buildings, shopping malls, and theaters can be revitalized as mixed-use developments with housing, retail spaces, life science labs or community centers.

Transportation infrastructure: Abandoned train stations, airports, and highways can be repurposed as parks, museums, or public markets.

Religious buildings: Churches, synagogues, and mosques can be converted into art galleries, performance venues, or community centers while preserving their spiritual significance.

Historic structures: Schools, libraries, and government buildings can be adapted for new uses while maintaining their historical and architectural character.

Successful Adaptive Reuse Projects

Center for Device Innovation, Houston TX: A 50-year-old former cookie factory in the Texas Medical Center was transformed into a space that brings together engineers, physicians, and designers to develop cutting edge medical devices.

  • Innolabs, New York City: A 1930s office building in Long Island City was converted into a Class A office for life science tenants.
  • Halozyme Therapeutics, San Diego, CA: A 75,000 sq/ft office building was converted to a fully integrated research lab and life science headquarters.
  • The High Line, New York City: An abandoned elevated railway transformed into a popular public park, showcasing the potential of adaptive reuse to create vibrant urban spaces.
  • Ferry Building Marketplace, San Francisco: A historic ferry terminal converted into a bustling marketplace with shops, restaurants, and event spaces, revitalizing the waterfront district.
  • Factory 5, Manchester, UK: A former cotton mill transformed into a mixed-use development with apartments, offices, and creative workspaces, contributing to the regeneration of the city center.

These examples demonstrate the transformative power of adaptive reuse in revitalizing old buildings, fostering sustainable development, and creating vibrant and livable communities. By embracing this approach, cities can leverage their existing infrastructure while contributing to a more sustainable and equitable future.

Learn how we can work directly with you and your design team to determine what lighting will best fit your adaptive reuse needs by contacting Dana Porter at


Allen, M. & Balistrieri, P. (2024, Jan 24). Benefits of Repurposing Existing Buildings for Research & Development. HGA.

Argianas, C. (2020, Oct 26). Nine Adaptive Reuse Considerations Property Owners Should Know. Forbes.

Bompa, D. (2022, Oct 1). Reusing, Recycling and Repurposing Infrastructure: Components and Construction Materials. MDPI.,carbon%20footprint%20associated%20with%20demolition

Gensler. (2022, June 8). Labs and Sciences: Consider This for Adaptive Reuse. Gensler.

Morrison, R. (2023, Dec 11). Repurposing Commercial Real Estate Impacts Urban Renewal. The Counselors of Real Estate.,revitalizing%20these%20run%2Ddown%20properties.

Morton, J. (2023, Nov 29). Innolabs Repurposes Pre-War Building into Life Sciences Hub. BUILDINGS.

Savoie, S. (2023, Sep 20). Adaptive Reuse for Cities and Towns: A Cost-Effective, Sustainable Solution for Underutilized Buildings. Performance Services.,the%20public%20and%20community%20partnerships.

Siple, J. (n.d.). Building Reuse is Climate Action. Quinn Evans.,of%20carbon%20into%20the%20atmosphere

Tuchyner, J. & Smith, L. (n.d.). Adaptive Reuse: Celebrating our Past, Building our Future. CRSA.,the%20identity%20of%20a%20place