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Building for a sector that never stays still

Post by

Jim Connolly 

Strategic Development Director

Building for a sector that never stays still

Our last blog covered the logistics sector and its continual rise in spite of a disruptive 2020. But it’s not alone. The life sciences industries – areas such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and more – are moving in the same direction.

And much like logistics, it was expanding long before Covid existed. The search for a vaccine has brought a fresh need for lab and R&D space, but investment and employment opportunity were already on a steep upward trajectory for most of the last decade.

It’s also one of those industries that can’t survive having its entire workforce working from home. It’s a specialist industry that relies heavily on specialist equipment and people coming together to work in specialist buildings. And with the industry being in such a healthy position, the demand for these buildings is starting to accelerate.

We’re already seeing the sector take advantage of repurposing redundant commercial space. The Works building, part of the Unity Campus in south Cambridge, being a perfect example.

Originally an industrial warehouse, the architect maintained its pre-cast concrete frame to create a modern multi-use development. Its design caters to its scientific purpose as well as encouraging participation from the local community – there’s plenty of fresh air and natural light, loads of open work spaces, and a central street open to the public.

However, with the life sciences sector including such a dynamic and ground-breaking set of specialisms, there’s a need for purpose-built developments too. The demands of the sector are always changing and ground-up developments can offer greater scope for adaptability.

Global architect NBBJ spoke with Professor Phillip Withers, Chief Scientist of Henry Royce Institute to get his insight on what an ideal life science building should cater to.

He talks about a building meeting four key demands. It should allow occupants to:

  • engage and educate the community
  • collaborate across departments
  • concentrate, think and contemplate
  • experiment with state-of-the-art facilities.

And key to making sure all of these factors work together in tandem, is creating a flexible space that can adapt to the changing nature and demand of the industry.

He goes on to say: ‘Flexibility, agility and configurability are therefore key to long term strategies and may include placing meeting and engagement spaces at the front of the building to encourage and enable engagement; large windows into laboratory spaces to demonstrate ‘science on show,’ and creating visual connections between research groups to encourage collaboration.’

On the other side of the coin, NBBJ also spoke to developer Colin Brown from The Howard Group. He reiterates the need for designs that encourage ‘cross-sector co-operation and sharing of insight and resource’.

Scientists are proud of being part of something bigger than their own area of expertise and they want to work in a building that pools knowledge and helps accelerate the discoveries of tomorrow.

Legal & General and The University of Oxford have just been granted planning for a £200m life sciences building that typifies the development Brown and Withers speak of.

Naturally, its design brings together the various scientific disciplines, while also connecting fields of research and education. Large parts of the building will be able to accommodate different types of labs and respond to the changing priorities of the sector.

As Legal & General explain, as an example, ‘demand for simulation focused dry-labs might increase over time within one area, while specialist growth and testing environments for plants need expanding elsewhere in the building.’

It certainly fits to Withers’ criteria. And it’s no wonder – the architect behind the project is in fact NBBJ.

It’s an exciting time to be involved in the life science industry, and the same can be said for developers and investors working in the same space. Whether it’s a re-use or ground-up development in the pipeline, the basic formula to appease planning authorities remains – an adaptable site that allows tenants to engage, collaborate, concentrate and experiment, and paves the way for the next scientific breakthroughs.

 

Sources

http://meanstheworld.co/work/the-future-science-workplace-is-here-today

http://meanstheworld.co/work/the-future-science-workplace-is-here-today-part-2

http://meanstheworld.co/work/how-to-design-commercial-buildings-to-meet-demand-for-the-life-science-boom

https://www.propertyfundsworld.com/2021/01/21/294748/legal-general-and-oxford-university-secure-planning-consent-new-gbp200m-life

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