New London Architecture

Adaptability holds the key for new lab projects

Wednesday 17 February 2021

WATCH THE WEBINAR RECORDING

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

Tamsie Thomson

Managing Director

Umberto Vallini

Projects Principal
Aukett Swanke

Duncan Leach

Director
BMJ Archictects

Eugene Sayers

Partner
Sheppard Robson

Adaptability was the watchword in the creation of Imperial College London’s new Molecular Sciences Research Hub.

That was according to the key players in the scheme to turn an old office building into a brand-new research facility in the heart of White City at a special projects in practice webinar earlier this week.

Aukett Swanke’s Umberto Vallini said that it is an interesting moment in terms of the high demand for life sciences and understanding of the flexibility between office and lab. Imperial College was looking for a space since it had outgrown its facilities in Exhibition Road, Aukett Swanke creating a masterplan as a ‘space for research’ and with public space and a building – to shell and core – which takes a ‘civic role’, including an open central atrium that allows for collaboration both within the building and the rest of the campus. The floor-to-floor height was, said Vallini, the key element to allow for flexibility, along with the creation of a basement level to allow for more planned space. 

‘We definitely learned a lot about flexibility and we think that in this building it worked as an agile, adaptable and flexible building’, he said.
BMJ director Duncan Leach said that future flexibility was key in terms of his role too, with the prospect of more heavily serviced labs down the line, while relationships across the teams also required ‘very collaborative arrangements’, BMJ straddling both the shell and core architect and fit out team at Sheppard Robson. ‘The initial start-up meeting had 50 attendees at it, so there was quite an extensive communication network that went into producing this’, Leach said. ‘Without having a really good robust set of collaborative relationships set up from the outset is it could have been a very different project, but I think it all of the hard work that was put in at the beginning to establish those relationships really paid dividends’.

Sheppard Robson director Eugene Sayers took the webinar audience through the fit-out design over the 10-year lifespan of the project’s creation. The chemistry department had wanted to move from its 50-year-old previous accommodation, a long, thin, linear block that had become a ‘blocker to their research’. 
With 57% of their grants being collaborations, that meant they needed to be interacting with people from outside the chemistry department all the time, he added. ‘They wanted to create different collaborations and promote their own activities, and the building will help do that’, he said. 

The design of the entrances are also important in opening up the processes within, he added. ‘The laboratories and the science are right on show, so when you walk into the building, you’re immediately aware of what the building is all about’.

Ultimately, added Leach, the key thing is ‘adaptability rather than built in redundancy’. While it was in the interests of pharma companies to be able to take an idea and turn it into a marketable quickly as possible, there is also a trend to create labs which are ultimately as flexible as possible by installing expensive and space-hungry, unused infrastructure. ‘Whereas, if you go for something that is more adaptable you can do the same design exercise of anticipating what is it that you might actually possibly need in the future in order to facilitate the most kinds of science that would be required’, said Leach, ‘and then you build in a strategy for being able to adapt the building to accommodate that’.


WATCH THE WEBINAR RECORDING

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

Tamsie Thomson

Managing Director

Umberto Vallini

Projects Principal
Aukett Swanke

Duncan Leach

Director
BMJ Archictects

Eugene Sayers

Partner
Sheppard Robson


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