Imran Khan
Associate principal and director of science, Margulies Perruzzi
Age: 50
Industry experience: 25 years 

Imran Khan’s role as director of science at Boston-based architects Margulies Perruzzi places him squarely in the forefront of the region’s R&D development boom. Greater Boston’s nearly 4 million-square-foot lab construction pipeline is the largest in the U.S., and another 18 million square feet of development are in the planning stages, according to research by brokerage Avison Young. A 25-year veteran of the Boston-area architecture industry, Khan has designed office-lab space for industry leaders such as EMD Serono and a health sciences simulation lab at his alma mater, Northeastern University. 

Q: When evaluating a building for potential lab conversion, what are the first questions an architect needs to answer?
A: These conversions are inherently challenging. Anything is possible depending on the cost. We start by looking at the building systems and spatial constraints. We’re looking at the energy use and the base infrastructure. Labs most often require 100 percent outside air, but not all labs are the same. We need to understand the plumbing, electrical systems, required wastewater and chemicals being used. All of these systems require additional space. We might start with 80 percent usable space in a building and have to go down to 60 percent because we are going to be inserting a fair amount of building systems. The other question is: What type of lab is going into that space? Spec labs are ones where you have to establish a baseline of a generic lab into that building. More and more building owners are looking at that. 

Q: What’s the range of costs per square foot for a conversion?
A: There is a big range, and they divide into two buckets. There are the basic building infrastructure upgrades to make it lab-ready. Then the tenant is going to come in and customize it for their use. Office-to-lab could be anything from $150 to $250 just to get it lab-ready, and that number comes with many assumptions. The tenant fit-out could be another $150 to thousands of dollars per square foot, depending upon the complexity of the programs.  

Q: As more life science developers acquire downtown Boston properties, what are the special considerations for lab space in urban settings?
A: Not all of the buildings and areas in Boston are zoned for lab use. So, you have to consider the regulatory conformance. Variances add costs and time. And fitting a lab into a high-rise building poses additional challenges, specifically related to chemical use and quantities. Labs that use chemicals and other hazardous materials are more prone to fires and explosions, which makes it more challenging. Sometimes it’s easier to put that specific program in a building that’s not a high-rise. As you go up in the building, the chemical quantities are decreased and we are limiting the types of labs that can be located on the upper floors. It’s not impossible, you just have to understand what is the functional program to put in there, as opposed to a lab that uses a lot of chemicals. One might put in instrumentation, robotics or theoretical instruments. 

Q: How big of an uptick in biomanufacturing work are you seeing in Greater Boston?
A: Within biomanufacturing, there are certainly different divisions. Some companies are producing end products, but processes can be divided up and provided by partner companies. In the industry, they call them contract manufacturing. There is certainly an uptick in the contract manufacturing side. Some of it is pandemic-induced but others are part of the ongoing growth of the industry, and Boston has such high [growth] potential. You’re talking about $100 to $2,000 in construction costs for GMP facilities – a very wide range, but it’s certainly on the upper end of the range.  

Q: The Boston Society of Architects has said it wants to improve connections with the local community and generate more interest among young people in the profession to increase diversity. How much progress have you witnessed during your career?
A: I started working in the early 1990s and at the time, only 13 percent of architects in leadership roles were women. In the last 30 years, the needle has only moved up to 17 percent, which is really unbelievable to me. That’s not to mention people of color, and that is even a smaller percentage in the profession. What’s encouraging to me is at least lately with all of the events that are going on nationally, there has been a higher recognition of these facts. From both individuals and company leadership, there’s increased opportunities for growth and education and employment, and Margulies Perruzzi certainly has embraced that. We have been active recently with initiatives to provide education to underserved youth and giving them educational opportunities and hopefully scholarships. It’s really to broaden their knowledge and experience about design architecture and this industry. 

Q: What prompted your initial interest in architecture?
A: I was a painter in high school, and I went to my teacher and said, “What do you think I should do for a living?” He said, “Painters don’t make much money.” I’m not sure how right he was, but he said, “You should go into architecture, and you can do some design and make some good money.” I grew up in Pakistan and came to the U.S. for my college education. My whole career has been in Greater Boston. 

Khan’s Five Favorite Places to Eat: 

  1. Pesto, Somerville 
  2. DIG Seaport, Boston 
  3. Russell House Tavern, Cambridge 
  4. Avana Sushi, Boston 
  5. Café Sushi, Cambridge 

A Front-Row Seat on Lab Construction Boom

by Steve Adams time to read: 4 min