What is Dark Shell Construction?

Terms such as “dark shell” and “vanilla shell” are frequently used in commercial construction. There are also synonyms for these words - vanilla shell can be referred to as a “warm shell” or “white box.” Dark shell can also be called a “cold dark shell.” These represent stages of interior commercial construction before “TIs” or “tenant improvements” are implemented. What is Dark Shell ConstructionTIs are critical because they reveal what commercial building occupants want prior to a move-in ready space - to make their building space ready for day-to-day work. TIs are part of occupant negotiations with landlords, before contracts are finished and prior to moving in. They represent what tenants desire in their working space, and what landlords will contribute to and allow. Often landlords will reduce lease fees based on tenant improvement allowances to incentivize occupants to move in. Landlords can prepare for such leasing arrangements by having their commercial building space built to a vanilla shell stage. Meaning that everything in the interior is ready for TIs or tenant customization, specifically: Electrical wiring and HVAC are in place; Floors are finished or concrete at bare minimum; Walls are completed with white paint; Fire escapes are completed; Bathrooms are completed and accessible; And ceilings are completed with basic lighting. All of this allows for contracted tenant improvements to quickly be implemented for occupants to open for work. An alternative to white box/vanilla shell construction is the dark shell (or cold dark shell). The dark shell requires less building work upfront but more to get ready for occupants. The advantage of dark shell construction is that it gives the occupant a lot more freedom in terms of what they desire for tenant improvements. Dark shells include: Unfinished/unpainted walls; Ceilings not dropped (no tile ceilings in place); Unfinished floors; No completed HVAC duct work; No existing utilities; No plumbing or electrical; Non-existent room dividers; And no ready sprinkler system. This explains the pros and cons and differences of vanilla shell and dark shell construction as well as tenant improvements in commercial construction. Want more? Read about Buildrite Construction’s renovation services.