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New Labs in Old Buildings: Adaptive Re-use of Historic Properties for Laboratory Facilities

Andrew Rothschild, Scientific Properties


Adaptive re-use is an energy efficient and environmentally conscious approach to building design. Its application to technically intensive laboratory use historically has been limited. The addition of historic preservation requirements might seem to present a nearly impossible set of obstacles to successful project completion. The authors argue, however, that the challenges are not only surmountable but actually contribute to a project rich with rewards - economically, environmentally and socially.

The authors present a case study of the Triangle Biotechnology Center (Durham, NC) - the conversion of an industrial building (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) to a biotechnology facility. The following issues are addressed:

  • Brownfields - The frequent presence of asbestos, lead-based paint and soil/groundwater contamination require a risk-based approach to project feasibility.
  • Financing - The creative use of special financing including specific types of tax credits make an otherwise impossible project financially attractive.
  • Energy efficiency and existing constraints - While the recycling of older buildings is itself energy conserving, existing structures may limit some otherwise desirable design options. A strategic, whole building's approach is required.
  • Infill redevelopment issues - As older industrial buildings are often located in urban areas, critical issues including security, transportation and accessibility must be addressed early and effectively.


Dr. Andrew Rothschild had been involved in a number of historic re-development projects in New York and was a practicing physician and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at the State University of New York until moving to the Triangle and turning to real estate development and construction full-time. He received his B.A. from Columbia University, his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, completed his residency in Internal Medicine at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and is currently an M.B.A. candidate in the Executive M.B.A. Program at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andrew founded Scientific Properties to develop and build life sciences facilities and is currently planning future projects in this area. Also active in scientific and entrepreneurial education and community development, Andrew leads Laboratories for Learning, a not-for-profit organization devoted to creating public educational opportunities in biotechnology, particularly for socio-economically disadvantaged youth.

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