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2024 to Witness Record Life Science Deliveries as Traditional Office Construction Declines 

Evelyn Jozsa | March 14, 2024

Key Takeaways:   

  • As of March 1, there was 81.4 million square feet of office space under construction slated for completion by the end of 2024 
  • While general office makes up 53% of all office space underway, total deliveries in 2024 are forecasted to be 37.5% below 2019 levels 
  • Life science development accounts for 27% of all office projects expected to be completed this year 
  • 2024 projections for life science space amount to nearly 22 million square feet, a sixfold increase from 2019 
  • Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego lead in life science construction, hosting over two-thirds of projects 

With tighter loan availability and office utilization stabilizing between 50% and 60% compared to pre-pandemic levels, office construction is undergoing a notable transformation. However, despite a general decline in demand for traditional office spaces, certain niches continue to draw interest from developers and investors, bucking the overall trend. 

In this report, we delve into the dynamics of office development, exploring which types of offices are still being built and why. We examined office projects under construction within six major categories scheduled for completion in 2024. 

As of March 1, there was a total of 81.4 million square feet of office space under construction across the six categories, all with 2024 completion dates. Remarkably, 64% of all ongoing office projects are anticipated to be finalized throughout this year.

The total volume of office completions has remained below pre-pandemic figures in recent years, specific areas, such as the life science sector, have experienced notable growth. Over the past five years, completions in this sector have increased annually, with projections for 2024 reaching nearly 22 million square feet—six times more than the 3.3 million completed in 2019. Moreover, life science developments account for 27% of all office projects expected to be completed this year.  

Life Science Projects Set to Comprise Over One-Third of 2024 Office Completions 

Despite setbacks, general office spaces continue to dominate the office construction landscape, comprising 53% of all office projects slated for completion in 2024 across the U.S. Even though office space usage has declined, there's a steady move towards premium quality spaces. This shift is prompting the development of Class A offices, particularly in areas with outdated office buildings. 

Life science facilities are emerging as an attractive office sector, representing 27% of total office projects underway. This reflects the increasing investment in healthcare innovation and the development of new medical treatments.

Medical office buildings (MOBs) account for 10% of construction projects, indicating a steady demand for healthcare services and the expansion of outpatient care facilities.  

Research and development (R&D) facilities make up 5.1% of projects, serving as the backbone for innovation across various industries, including technology, engineering and manufacturing. Creative offices represent 4.5% of construction projects, catering to industries that value aesthetics, collaboration and flexibility, such as advertising, design and software development.  

Finally, coworking spaces, although only constituting a small fraction (0.2%) of the total office space under construction, reflect the evolving nature of work and the growing preference for shared work environments with flexible terms.  

2024 Life Science Completions to Increase Sixfold Compared to Pre-pandemic Levels 

While general office spaces continue to represent the bulk of ongoing projects, the volume of office space expected to come online in 2024 is forecasted to decrease by 37.5%, compared to the nearly 69 million square feet completed before the pandemic in 2019. This indicates a significant shift in the office landscape, reflecting changes in work patterns and a recalibration of demand for traditional office spaces. 

At the same time, life science completions jumped from roughly 3.3 million square feet in 2019 to an estimated 22 million square feet slated to come online in 2024. To put this growth into perspective, the total life science space finished between 2019 and 2023 was 29 million square feet, just a bit more than the 22 million square feet anticipated for completion this year alone. 

R&D facilities are another bright spot, witnessing a consistent increase in completions from 2019 to 2023. This year's deliveries are anticipated to be 164% higher than the 1.6 million square feet delivered pre-pandemic, highlighting the growing emphasis on innovation and development spaces across industries. 

While MOBs continue to be a sought-after office subtype, the forecast for 2024 shows a 21% decrease in completions compared to 2019 levels. Telehealth and oversaturation in certain markets might be behind the moderation in medical office construction. Nonetheless, the sector will likely see around 8.6 million square feet of space added to its inventory this year. 

Interestingly, creative offices have also experienced a sharp decline in completions compared to before the pandemic, going from 10.6 million square feet in 2019 to 4.3 million square feet in 2023. This year, a total of 3.7 million square feet are expected to come online, 65% below 2019 figures. 

Lastly, coworking spaces have also showcased a downward trend in completions, going from 585,508 square feet in 2019 to 116,550 square feet slated for delivery in 2024.  

Top Markets for Life Science Deliveries in 2024 

Interestingly, over two-thirds of the life science construction projects expected to come online in 2024 are located in just three markets: Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego.  

Boston leads the pack, accounting for 34% of all life science construction projects in the country. Developers are set to complete 7.5 million square feet of lab space by the end of 2024, which represents 90% of Boston's construction pipeline for the year. 

Boston's surge in life science development is supported by its world-class universities and research institutions, along with a boost from the rapid advancements in biotechnology spurred by the pandemic. The metro saw a significant increase in lab space completions, from 465,582 square feet in 2019 to 2.1 million square feet in 2023, peaking at 3.1 million square feet completed in 2022. 

Following Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area is the country’s second most active region for life science development, hosting 21% of all such projects. The metro is expected to add 4.5 million square feet of lab space by the end of 2024.  

Since before the pandemic, the market has added 6.64 million square feet of new life science space to its inventory, with a significant portion coming from converting office spaces into labs. Notably, from the first quarter of 2021 to the same period in 2022, the rate of office-to-lab conversions surged by 266%, according to CBRE.  

Similar to Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area’s life science development is driven by a robust ecosystem of renowned universities, high-end research institutions and a concentration of biotech and pharmaceutical companies. As a result, the region benefits from a significant talent pool and venture capital investment, fueling innovation and growth in the sector.  

San Diego is another hotspot for life science development, encompassing 16% of all projects nationwide. This year, the market anticipates the delivery of 3.6 million square feet of space, almost doubling the 1.6 million square feet completed between 2019 and 2023. Significant expansions to the market's life science infrastructure include IQHQ's Research and Development District, offering 1.7 million square feet, and Stockdale Capital Partners' Campus at Horton Plaza, providing 615,000 square feet — both projects will be delivered in multiple phases. 

Besides the usual suspects, Houston stands out as an emerging life science hub, thanks to its focus on fostering innovation and development in the sector, driven by institutions such as the Texas Medical Center. Although there were no new completions from 2019 to 2022, last year, the city expanded its life science inventory by nearly 900,000 square feet. This year, Houston is on track to add 630,000 square feet of space, making up 3% of all life science projects currently in progress in the U.S. 

Outlook: Office Construction Expected to Continue to Slide 

As the office sector navigates changing demands and evolving work patterns, niche sectors continue to become safe havens for developers and investors. The life science sector, in particular, is experiencing unprecedented expansion, with 2024 on track to become a record year for lab space deliveries.  

Nonetheless, the anticipated surge in completions this year is expected to put downward pressure on the life science sector in the upcoming years, potentially leading developers to approach new projects with increased caution. Consequently, we anticipate a slowdown in new construction starts in 2024, leading to a more moderate pace of completions in 2025. Currently, 6 million square feet of life science space is slated to come online next year.  

Overall, office development has been sliding over the past few years, with construction starts falling from 98.5 million square feet in 2019 to 40.6 million square feet in 2023. As construction loans become more difficult to come by and office vacancies tick further up, our outlook predicts that starts will continue to slide even further in 2024, leading to more moderate deliveries over the next few years.  

Methodology  

This report highlights buildings across multiple office subtypes currently under construction and expected to be completed by 2024. Final delivery dates, however, might differ. Under-construction data was extracted on March 1, 2024. Our report includes buildings that are 25,000 square feet and above. We define under-construction properties as buildings for which construction and excavation have begun. A building is considered completed when its construction has finished, it is operational, and it is ready to be occupied by tenants. 

In this report, we examine six office subtypes, using the industry terms and definitions provided by NAIOP as a foundation. We have also supplemented these with our definitions to delineate the subtypes:  

  • General Office: A general office space is a facility used for business or professional activities, including the administration of companies in sectors like finance, insurance and real estate. 
  • Life Sciences: These buildings are highly specialized lab spaces for research and development, typically developed to the needs of a biotech tenant.  
  • Medical Office Buildings (MOBs): A building where at least 75% of the interior is designed to support healthcare professionals like doctors, dentists or technicians who conduct examinations using specialized equipment. 
  • Creative Office: Former industrial spaces featuring high ceilings and visible air ducts, commonly constructed from brick and timber, repurposed into offices or studios. These spaces typically attract tenants from the technology, advertising, media and entertainment industries. Additionally, for this report, we have incorporated Media & Technology and Flex office spaces into this category. Flex office spaces are buildings initially intended for light manufacturing, now converted into flex spaces. Media & Technology offices are designed to support media content production and distribution. 
  • R&D Offices: An office facility tailored for the innovation and development of new products or services, excluding those related to the Life Sciences sector. 
  • Coworking spaces: Workspace offered for lease in a communal setting for short- to long-term periods. Space for office, artistic or manufacturing use can be leased by the day, month, year or even hour. 

Market boundaries in the report coincide with the ones defined by the CommercialEdge Markets Map and may differ from regional boundaries defined by other sources. In this report, we considered the San Francisco Bay Area a single market. To determine the top 10 markets for life science construction, we looked at the leading 25 office markets across the U.S.

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Evelyn is a creative writer covering commercial real estate trends and insights in the U.S. Evelyn was previously a senior associate editor at Multi-Housing News and Commercial Property Executive. She has an academic background in Journalism and Irish Studies. Evelyn has been covering the CRE industry since 2017. Reach her via email.

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