A cold shell is a commercial or residential building that has an unfinished interior. It does not have heating, ventilating or air conditioning. It also lacks lighting, plumbing, ceilings or interior walls. However, the definition of a cold shell may vary by location and situation.
A cold shell is ready for vanilla shell improvements, which are minimal improvements that finish the interior. Once the cold shell has vanilla shell improvements, it is ready for tenant improvements like furniture and fixtures.
Builders often contract for "cold shell" buildings. Then, another contractor makes the vanilla shell improvements so a tenant can use the space.