Science and the city

Jennifer Dimambro - director, buildings London, Arup

Architecture, design and location are helping define the UK’s path in scientific research says Jennifer DiMambro.

As part of a drive to boost the attractiveness of scientific research facilities, science is moving more and more towards our cities. Buildings that would once have been located on the edge of a city or on a campus, set back from busy streets, are now being positioned in vibrant, urban neighbourhoods. Notwithstanding the aesthetic appeal and 21st Century engineering designs, these new facilities also reach new heights in terms of technical innovation.

"As we have observed in the hi-tech sector, with the formation of industry hubs such as Silicon Valley and Tech City, being in close proximity to peers can be hugely beneficial."

Set to open in September this year, the Crick Institute, situated in the prestigious St Pancras area, will become Europe’s largest biomedical research centre, housing 1,500 scientists working on disease diagnosis, prevention and treatments for conditions including cancer, malaria and influenza.

Positioned amid a cluster of academic, scientific and medical organisations, the facility’s location is viewed as critical to its success in attracting the best research talent and establishing the institute as a world-respected medical destination. As we have observed in the hi-tech sector, with the formation of industry hubs such as Silicon Valley and Tech City, being in close proximity to peers can be hugely beneficial. The opportunity this affords for the cross-pollination of ideas is a huge draw for ambitious individuals, who would like to work in an environment that will nurture their skills.  

In addition, the nearby St Pancras International and King's Cross railway stations provide excellent local, national and international transport links for visitors and guest lecturers. The institute has also worked closely with Camden Council to agree a package of benefits for the local community, including a facility, called the Living Centre, to promote healthier lifestyles.

The Sainsbury Wellcome Centre (SWC) is another prime example of these emerging science facilities – both in terms of location and design innovation. Based on the corner of Charlotte Street in central London, the building sits at the heart of the University College London campus, in close proximity to other scientific facilities and city amenities.

The Sainsbury Laboratory is a 11,000m2 plant science research facility sits within the University of Cambridge’s Botanic Gardens in central Cambridge, and has been designed to house complex scientific research within a building that responds to this environment. The laboratory inspires its 120 researchers by providing an unprecedented level of natural light and proximity to their subject, including daylight from rooflights as well as windows overlooking the Garden.

Like many other new facilities, the new Cancer Centre at Guy's Hospital in London has been designed with longevity in mind. With healthcare evolving at a rapid rate, future-proofing the facility has been a key aspect in its design. The demountable LINAC bunker shielding, for example, allows for this area to be re-designed in the future should less invasive cancer treatment be available. Meanwhile, the flexible building services strategy allows for any floor to be re-fitted, while the adjacent floors remain fully functional.

While all of the medical and research facilities discussed sit in city locations, none of these buildings make the architectural or aesthetic compromises you might expect from a new build in a confined, highly regulated urban area. These spaces encourage researchers to join an institute by providing a more stimulating and inspiring environment once they are working. It is these buildings that will bring science to our cities, and place London and other UK cities on the world research map.

Jennifer DiMambro is  director, Buildings London, Arup

You can read a longer version of this article in the June edition of Infrastructure Intelligence out now.