top of page
  • Writer's pictureRealFacts Editorial Team

There Might Be Lab Space in Your Office Tower's Future

Lab space

When the University of Toronto's Temerty Faculty of Medicine needed to expand its laboratory space near its urban campus, it faced a significant challenge. In Canada's largest city, space is at a premium, and biotech work simply cannot be done from home. The university turned to Arcadis, a global design, engineering, and management consulting firm, to convert two floors of a 1980s office building into functional laboratories.

The Demand for Lab Space

Jay Deshmukh, associate principal and practice lead within architecture at Arcadis, emphasized the urgency and complexity of the task. "You cannot take your lab home; you cannot make that shift," she explained. The demand for lab space in Toronto is only growing as the city strengthens its presence in the global bioscience marketplace.

Global Trend: Repurposing Office Space

Repurposing underused office space has become an increasingly attractive solution in urban centers worldwide, particularly accelerated by the pandemic's shift to remote work. However, converting office space to labs is a relatively new concept in Canada, even though it has been more common in the United States. Arcadis's project in Toronto's 777 Bay Street is set to influence similar projects globally.

Converting Office Space: Challenges and Solutions

Arcadis faced numerous challenges in converting 40,000 square feet of office space into a biotech laboratory. "The simple issue that everyone starts with is the floor-to-floor height because the requirements are far more intensive, and it is a much more controlled environment," Deshmukh said. Laboratories require sophisticated air handling systems, mechanical and electrical backups, and security measures that typical office buildings lack. For instance, labs generally need 15 feet of floor-to-floor space, but the office building had only 12 feet. Arcadis had to design precise solutions, akin to a "large Swiss Army knife," to fit all necessary systems within the limited space.

Innovative Solutions: Adapting to Constraints

A crucial part of the solution was installing ductless fume hoods with filters to remove impurities, allowing for safe laboratory conditions without needing a 25-floor chimney stack for ventilation. This innovation meant that Arcadis could create lab spaces on any floor of the building, making it adaptable for future conversions.

Choosing the Right Building: The Canderel Property

The Canderel building, owned in partnership with TD Asset Management and BIMCOR, a Bell Canada subsidiary, provided an ideal site. It already had a service elevator and rooftop space above the podium extending to the 10th floor, essential for the added HVAC systems. Additionally, the in-place zoning allowed for laboratory functions, avoiding the need for extensive rezoning processes.

Financial Viability: Higher Lease Rates

For landlords like Canderel, converting office space to labs presents an opportunity to charge higher lease rates. Although the cost of fitting out lab space is two to three times higher than traditional offices, long-term tenants like the University of Toronto, which secured a 10-year lease, make the investment worthwhile. "What we were thinking is adapt this space for different uses and help future-proof our real estate," said Mike Vilner, senior vice president of leasing and business development at Canderel.

Future Prospects: Expanding the Model

Canderel’s approach has implications beyond Toronto. With 26 million square feet of commercial space across its portfolio, the company is exploring similar conversions in cities like Montreal, Ottawa, and Western Canada. "We proved to them through a study that a standard office building could house a lab," Vilner noted, marking this project as a pioneering effort in Canada.


bottom of page