Sheds, Meds and Beds

From Beautiful Shells to Life Science Hubs, Evolving Uses for Tomorrow’s Mixed-Use Developments

March 28, 2022

Design Principal

The pandemic continues to disrupt commercial real estate, from remote work and social distancing to supply chains and inflation. As these challenges unfold and organizations evolve in response, we explore the future of commercial developments through the lens of three fast-growing sectors: sheds—industrial-oriented spaces such as production studios and data or distribution centers; meds—commercial life science buildings or medical office; and beds—mixed-use residential developments, as well as innovative design strategies for each type of development.

Sheds: Developing A Beautiful Shell for Creativity and Commerce

As the demand for content skyrockets and e-commerce sales boom during the pandemic, industrial spaces—for film and music production studios as well as distribution and data centers—have become even more essential to entertainment and tech companies alike. The flexible, open environment of warehouses can serve as a blank slate and provide the necessary space for entertainment and tech companies to produce on-demand movies and TV, as well as fulfill, pack and ship online orders. In addition, warehouses also provide an authentic sense of place and history, they can be more sustainable if they repurpose older materials, and they allow for greater flexibility because there are fewer columns than many modern workplaces. Yet these buildings are often siloed from their communities. Instead, they can become better neighbors—especially in urban settings—and by extension, be even more efficient and sustainable.

It is critical that production studios, fulfillment centers and data centers extend beyond a fortress mentality. Doing so transforms “shed” warehouse environments into those that are mutually beneficial to both the tenants leasing them, by driving partnerships and innovation, as well as the neighborhoods that surround them, by fostering creativity and investment in local services for current and future generations.

Furthermore, as urban building stock ages, film industry studios have the unique opportunity to purchase or renovate old studios into production spaces, offices and even community gathering places that are open to the public and provide a behind-the-scenes look into the creative process. For instance, a production studio that is relocated to an urban or a more walkable neighborhood could integrate into office or residential developments and offer space to host interactive exhibitions or partnerships with local nonprofits. In addition, studios open to the public can allow people to create and share their own content. One way is to maximize accessible public space by integrating production studios with public thoroughfares, like riverfront walkways, while also providing open space for concerts and gatherings.

Also, as warehouses are usually located in the suburbs, exurbs or more rural areas of the country, providing space for them in cities can be a more sustainable option—featuring more connected urban transit not just for employees to commute to work, but for the organizations delivering goods and products to and from these warehouses. In addition, as land costs rise and building uses evolve, these “shed” spaces can maximize tight urban sites by going vertical—building up rather than out, and combining mixed-use and production studios, fulfillment and data centers into one. For instance, locating these “sheds,” which are typically three to four stories, in urban areas and surrounding them with office or residential components can help compact their footprint. Wrapping these warehouses with space for different types of uses provides longer-term flexibility. In addition, with the future wide-spread adaption of driverless cars, unused parking garages could be retrofitted or repurposed into distribution centers.

Meds: Driving Life Science and Healthy Innovation

Perhaps now more than ever, health is driving innovations—and the commercial life science industry plays a central part, especially key in the discovery of treatments that increase life expectancy. While healthcare buildings such as hospitals, academic medical centers and specialty clinics are critical forces in this arena, funding for and activity around commercial life science developments is also increasing.

One emerging trend is life science tenants that relocate to key science clusters near leading universities, such as the “golden triangle” between Oxford, London and Cambridge in England or the high concentration of colleges in Boston in the US. There is also high demand for office space conversions, from heads-down zones into lab space and collaborative amenities that allow staff to serendipitously bump into one another to learn, brainstorm and exchange ideas.

For example, The Works repurposes a warehouse in Cambridge, UK’s, burgeoning life science and technology cluster into a unique research and office environment for a new fleet of businesses to collaborate and connect. One- or two-story layouts provide tenants the space they need to expand, while a double-height atrium that hosts amenity and breakout spaces encourages tenants to brainstorm and socialize. Similarly, the University Enterprise Zone, hosted by Queen Mary University of London and funded by Research England, creates an innovative space for emerging digital health, med-tech and AI startups. Dedicated workspaces for each tenant—as well as shared meeting rooms, convertible labs and maker spaces—can grow and adapt as future space needs evolve.

The Works in Cambridge, UK, represents a new approach to life science that promotes collaboration and connection between tenants to foster new discoveries. A central atrium serves as a place to socialize and brainstorm while a variety of layouts accommodate tenants’ current and future needs.

 

Yet while life science tenants rely on collaboration to foster new discoveries and cross-disciplinary research, they are generally more private than tech. They want synergies but need to maintain confidentiality and security throughout their work. To enhance privacy while still fostering connections between different teams and organizations, developments can provide separate lab and office spaces that also feature shared amenity zones. One project in south Seattle, S, is combining 1.26 million sq of Class A lab and office space across a six-building, 6+acre, creative-class cluster-development, located around transit-oriented nodes with a focus on innovative design principles, human health, and environmental well-being.

Commercial developments are also prioritizing healthy buildings for both people and the planet. This includes imbuing projects with five key qualities—light, views, ventilation, air quality and thermal comfort—while a focus on nature can restore and rejuvenate.

Beds: Building Connective Communities

Mixed-used residential developments are becoming increasingly important anchors in communities, serving as key neighborhood lifelines with a diversity of housing types, office space, restaurants and retail, as well as shared amenities and events programming. Mixed-use developments can also help address one of the world’s largest crises—a lack of space for housing—by increasing access to more affordable housing while providing developers and even tech companies with more stable investments. Mixed-use developments with residential spaces can help kickstart vibrant communities, providing not just places for people to live, but the amenities they and surrounding neighborhoods they need to thrive. In addition, some developers are opting to switch uses to help meet the growing demand for housing, for instance, through office-to-residential renewals and conversions. As cities see vacancies rise in Class B office buildings, there is a flight to high quality buildings that are mixed-use or provide amenities that align with the market need, opening up new areas of space for housing. And, with cities continuing to flex and change during the pandemic, we may also see post-pandemic housing transition to an extended stay model to accommodate a work-from-anywhere approach.

A focus on wellness—from physical to mental and community health—as well as connectivity is shaping mixed-use developments. This extends beyond fitness centers and outdoor community yoga to healthcare clinics, nonprofit centers, spaces for environmental and governance groups, and even schools. One example is the mixed-use development Gravity, which kickstarted an up-and-coming district outside of downtown Columbus, OH. Inspired by its eclectic and creative neighborhood, it builds a welcoming infrastructure of amenities, art and culture. Residential, office, retail and community spaces stitch the community together, with unique “pocket spaces” woven between the angular buildings that provide an array of amenities: a food truck zone, gathering space for outdoor movie screenings, vegetable gardens and even a graffiti wall. Projects like Gravity are creating equitable and inclusive spaces by uniting the community, providing inviting spaces for local and visitors, and offering vital resources for the neighborhood and beyond.

Developments like Gravity in Columbus, OH are creating equitable spaces by inviting the community in and offering amenities and resources that can be enjoyed by residents, tenants and visitors alike.

 

In addition, infrastructure improvements—expanding train lines, for example—are paving new opportunities for mixed-use, extending the radius where people can live and work without needing to drive. A catalyst for sustainable urban development, the Spring District in Bellevue, WA, is a transit-oriented LEED Neighborhood-certified mixed use development that incorporates spaces for working and living as well as walkable streets, independent retail and open spaces.

As our urban spaces continue to evolve, mixed-use projects create healthier, more resilient and connected communities than stand-alone projects.  “Sheds, meds and beds” hits on three unique areas that are changing our future cities. At the same time, it is critical to consider how we can better integrate new building types and sizes into our urban fabric. Cities are changing the zoning codes to allow for more density and program uses in urban areas, and the integration of these new archetypes will greatly impact how our cities function in the future. It is imperative that real estate developers, city planners, urban designers, architects and city dwellers challenge convention to bring together traditional and nontraditional programs to create new environments. Tomorrow’s next wave of urban environments demand opportunities to live, work, play, innovate, create and make together.

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