New London Architecture

London scores knowledge quarter coup with AHMM-designed MSD HQ and discovery centre

Monday 07 September 2020

David Taylor

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ

London has scored a major coup for its knowledge economy and particularly its life sciences expertise by luring MSD to create a sustainable, ‘world leading, state of the art’ UK Headquarters and Discovery Centre at King’s Cross.

London-based developer Precis Group struck the deal with global healthcare company MSD to locate in north London, strengthening the city’s role as a world-leading research hub, lodging a planning application last week with designs by AHMM. As owners of Belgrove on the Euston Road in Camden, it agreed commercial terms with MSD to develop laboratories for breakthrough research with a new headquarters that will provide a state-of-the-art new home for around 800 clinical researchers focusing on diseases of ageing and human biology and office staff, cementing the city at the forefront of the life sciences industry.

Belgrove House is located directly opposite King’s Cross Square and St Pancras International and King’s Cross Station with connectivity to the UK and rest of Europe. It is currently the location of an Access self-storage facility, owned by the Precis Group.

Architects Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM) have worked up a sustainable design for the new MSD headquarters that will provide laboratory and office space, step-free access for King’s Cross Station, and transform the public realm surrounding the site. The proposals include planting both at street level and throughout the building, as well as public access at ground and lower ground level.

The vision, say the project backers, is for Belgrove House is to ‘lead the way in sustainability and set a new benchmark in helping to address the climate emergency through world-class design’.

The proposed building, 10 storeys on Euston Road and four storeys (with a fifth storey set back) on Argyle Square, will deliver c 180,000 sq ft of net lettable space for MSD, would use sustainable materials and has been designed to reduce carbon emissions generated through construction, operation and future fit-out refurbishment. An innovative double-skin façade would reduce solar gain and the energy required to cool the office spaces, and includes a biophilic zone which gives visibility of plants from every workspace and from outside the building.

Faaiza Lalji, Director of Planning and Development at Precis, said:
“This is fantastic news for London, for Camden and of course for King’s Cross. The recent emergence of the Knowledge Quarter and the cluster of life science companies, universities and businesses focused on research, has presented us with an opportunity to design a building for MSD at the centre of the Knowledge Quarter.

“We have been working with them since last summer and along with Stirling-prize winning architects AHMM, have designed an innovative building for a tenant at the forefront of the life-sciences industry.

“We are pleased to have agreed commercial terms, which are subject to planning and will form the basis of a formal lease in the usual course.

“We feel very strongly that we have the opportunity to create a building that not only adds to the historic importance of the area, but also improves the public realm, offers new opportunities for collaboration and innovation amongst science and technology organisations, and inspires people in Camden by giving them access to this incubator of ideas through employment and training opportunities.

“We will continue to work with local groups, businesses and residents to ensure that not only the Knowledge Quarter benefits from this, but also the local community.”

Commenting on MSD’s decision to locate their UK headquarters and Discovery Centre at King’s Cross, Roger Perlmutter, Executive Vice President of MSD and President of MSD Research Laboratories, said: “We are delighted to have agreed commercial terms to locate our UK HQ and research facilities at Belgrove House, strengthening the Knowledge Quarter and London’s role as a global research hub. Subject to planning permission, we look forward to establishing an exciting new MSD Discovery Centre right at the heart of the Knowledge Quarter. It will be a world leading, state-of-the-art laboratory to discover new medicines to treat diseases and both MSD and Precis are eager to develop, together, an extraordinary centre for breakthrough research, which is now more important than ever given the
current situation with CV-19.

“We view the UK as a world-leader in developing science, underpinned by a strong research and development infrastructure, scientific skills base and clinical trial network. We want the UK to continue to maintain its world-leading status in developing science. The current focus of our UK team is to work on diseases of ageing, such as Alzheimer’s, and this new facility would be central to this research.”

Jodie Eastwood, Chief Executive of the Knowledge Quarter, said:
“The potential addition of MSD’s new HQ in the Knowledge Quarter will only strengthen the area as one of the most important life sciences clusters in the world.
“As an innovation district, the Knowledge Quarter allows organisations from different sectors to connect, exchange knowledge, work together and innovate. We also help embed organisations more deeply in their communities. It is important for us that companies like MSD inspire young people in Camden and London to take an active interest in STEAM. We are therefore pleased that we are already working with the tenant and Precis to ensure the building, and the activities that will take place inside, are accessible to those living and working in the area.”
The proposals for Belgrove House are being brought forward together with affordable housing provided nearby at Acorn House, situated within the same ward and a four-minute walk away. The proposals are currently being publicised through a virtual exhibition on www.belgroveacorn.co.uk. Assuming planning is granted in 2021, the aim is to open the HQ and Discovery Centre in 2025.

Belgrove House - key design facts:

 The proposed scheme respects the nationally significant historic station buildings and
responds to the engineering achievements of these in an area of strong character and
striking contrasts.
 Its configuration emerges from a clear, legible arrangement of uses on the site. Life-sciences
research laboratories can be located on the largest floorplates at floors 1-3, providing
animation to the facades and a public window. HQ style offices can be located on floors 5-9.
The 4th floor can serve as a dedicated ‘collaboration hub’.
 A generous ground floor provides occupant and public access via the main entrance on
Euston Road into a reception and exhibition space, alongside space for the Knowledge
Centre.
4
 A new step-free entrance to the Underground is proposed linking the building into King’s
Cross/ St. Pancras via a new connection at lower-ground floor to the pedestrian tunnel
beneath Euston Road.
 From Argyle Square at the rear, a publicly-accessible entrance into a café and event,
meeting and education space is proposed, animating the square and giving access into a
lower-ground floor auditorium.
 The design and engineering processes have been informed by the requirements of MSD and
include increased floor to floor heights to accommodate greater MEP zones, increased
vibration resistance within the structure and larger column grids.
 It is designed to be highly sustainable and an example of how carbon emissions may be
reduced in construction, operation, and future refurbishment.
 Innovative ventilation strategies and highly efficient systems lead to a substantial reduction
in anticipated carbon emissions.
 Externally expressed risers provide air distribution and solar-shading to facades, reducing
heat gains and a ‘biophilic’ double-skin facade can provide views through planting.
 The scheme is targeting BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ and LEED ‘Gold’, as well as benchmarking
the LETI targets and the WELL standard.
 The public realm strategy proposes improvements such as new planting and trees within an
urban greening design methodology.
 External terraces at levels four and five can create outdoor amenity space for occupants and
a distinct identity when viewed from surrounding areas
Acorn House – key design facts
 Acorn House is currently a seven storey office building on the corner of Grays In Road and
Swinton Street in Camden
 The proposed new building will be part six, part nine storeys in height. The stepped down
approach to the design is to responding to the different architectural conditions on Swinton
St and Gray’s Inn Road.
 The building will be residential led and provide 33 new homes all of which will be affordable
split 60% Social Affordable Rent and 40% Intermediate Rent tenures.
 10% apartments to be Wheelchair Accessible.
 C.500m2 of flexible office space suitable for start-up businesses with c.50 desk spaces would
be provided along with c.190m2 of retail unit space suitable for a local business.
 An external playspace is proposed at level six and a community room with kitchenette and
landscaped terrace for residents at level nine. homes of all tenures. One notable example includes 184 Shepherd’s Bush Road, Hammersmith, the Grade II listed former Ford factory restored and extended for the European HQ of customer science company, Dunnhumby.


David Taylor

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ


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