Designing Life Sciences Buildings: Challenges, Sustainability, and Collaboration

December 8, 2023

The massive demand for critical care equipment such as ventilators and key medicines made unprecedented demands on life sciences companies to manufacture these products faster and more efficiently than ever before.

In Ireland, the life sciences industry directly employs over 50,000 people across medical devices, pharma, and biotechnology. Many of the world’s most prescribed drugs are manufactured in this country, while all but one of the world’s 25 largest biotech and pharma companies have a significant presence here.

Investment in life sciences

Given the spotlight on world governments’ inadequacies in responding to this pandemic, a lot of investment and focus is now being injected into making sure the world is ready when the next healthcare crisis hits. This of course means more construction and engineering will be needed to build the facilities necessary to meet demand and maintain the supply chain of critical drugs and treatments.

The different strands of the life sciences sector

Work in life sciences spans everything from developing vaccines to producing medical devices, commercialising treatments and equipment to prolonging human lives.

  • Pharmaceuticals: Researching, developing, and distributing generic or innovator medicines
  • Biotechnology: Researching, creating, and manufacturing commercial medical applications, while also working with vaccines, alternatives to fuels and growing food
  • Medical devices: Developing surgical instruments such as machines, software or implants
  • Lab spaces: Testing and developing various health, genetic, anatomy, and ecological applications
  • Food processing: Studying the composition of foods through chemistry, microbiology, physics, engineering, and biology

With so many different categories of life sciences, all intersecting and crossing over with each other at different points, there is no such thing as a typical life sciences building.

The different types of life sciences buildings

Life sciences buildings are office buildings, combined office and laboratory buildings, and research or manufacturing/warehouse buildings, the major tenants of which are primarily medical, pharmaceutical or biotech companies. That’s a pretty broad definition in anyone’s book.

The reality is that the branches of life sciences are hugely varied, which by definition means its facilities are too. No two life sciences companies work in the same way or produce the same types of products, so the make-ups of the buildings they require will need differing combinations of the following facilities:

Sustainable mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering systems are crucial

Laboratories are major energy consumers due to high-volume, all-air systems and process loads that drive high electrical and cooling demands. A laboratory will often consume three to five times the energy of an equivalent-sized office building, with more specialised facilities far exceeding that.

Life sciences buildings need large numbers of power-consuming containment and exhaust devices, plumbing fixtures, heating equipment, 24-hour power supply, and emergency back-up generators. The challenge with engineering these buildings lies in smartly installing energy-efficient technologies such as low-energy exhaust systems, water recycling, and air quality monitoring systems to not only reduce environmental impact but also consumption costs.

Ensuring the WELLness of life sciences professionals

A workspace focused on wellbeing can lead to a less stressful and more productive atmosphere. In life sciences, especially, it’s essential the physical work environment of employees is taken into consideration. They need to feel comfortable and calm in their physical work settings to produce their best work.

The WELL Building Standard™ (WELL) focuses on measures that improve the health and wellbeing of occupants. WELL addresses a range of lighting elements including visual acuity, glare reduction, colour, flexibility, daylight, and people’s circadian rhythm – the physical, mental and behavioural processes we all experience in a 24-hour cycle.

Investing in appropriate HVAC systems, which reduce the re-circulation of air within a building, is key to reducing the potential future impact of viruses such as COVID-19. WELL also establishes requirements in buildings that promote clean air and reduce or minimise the sources of indoor air pollution.

Achieving WELL certification for a life sciences building shows that due care has been taken in terms of ventilation effectiveness, air filtration, external pollution reduction, microbe control, air purification and more.

Locating life sciences buildings at the triple helix

The triple helix model of innovation refers to the relationship between academia, industry, and government in fostering economic development and harnessing the power of the knowledge economy. By situating research and development facilities in city or urban centres, life sciences companies can be close to the government health bodies making the decisions that impact them. It also means scientific talent can remain adjacent to academic institutions and enjoy the benefit of the pursuits that inspire their minds, such as arts, cultural, and community-based activities.

MSD Swords

Metec Life Sciences Project: MSD Swords

Challenges and Successes

We faced unique challenges in this project, including the narrow ceiling voids, intricate coordination requirements, and stringent client standards. Despite these challenges, Metec successfully delivered an energy-efficient facility, achieving LEED Silver certification.

Metec's Approach

BIM technology was utilised to manage the complex layout and ensured all services were coordinated within the restricted ceiling void. Regular HAZOPs reviews were conducted to safeguard equipment installation and maintenance.

Mechanical and Electrical Services

Mechanical services included fume hoods, exhaust air ductwork, VAV units, and a Grade D clean room with constant air volume and CAV units. The electrical services comprised LV schematics, general services power, control battery system, cleanroom lighting, ICT services, containment, CCTV, access control, fire alarm, sound masking, lightning protection, and gas detection.

At Metec, we design definitive life sciences

With the demands being put upon the sector, it is so important you partner with a team of engineers who have experience in pharma and biotech, and who possess a strong understanding of environmental and sustainable design, as well as the regulatory requirements, when it comes to designing your new life sciences building.

If you would like to know more about Metec and our approach to designing life sciences spaces, get in touch with the team at Metec today.

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