Midlands & East Anglia

Flagship £200 million lab will be at the cutting edge of medical research

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addenbrookes_atrium_grey-stairsA major new flagship home for the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) is under construction in a £115 million project on a site next to Addenbrooke’s Hospital on the newly established Cambridge Biomedical Campus in Cambridge.

The £200 million building, which replaces an older facility, is being constructed for the medical research council. Architects are RMJM Architects, and Main Contractors are BAM Construction. Also playing a major role in the project are KJ Tait Engineers, who formed a joint design venture with the American firm of specialist lab designers, RMF Engineering, to undertake this commission.

Discoveries and inventions developed at the LMB, such as DNA sequencing and methods to determine the structure of proteins, have revolutionised all areas of biology.

The new site will enable world class researchers at the LMB and at the University’s Clinical School and Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to establish new links to work together in translating basic fundamental research.

The role of the LMB is to understand biological processes at the molecular level through the application of a wide range of methods based on physics, chemistry and genetics. This involves the study of the structure of proteins, nucleic acids and membranes and how they interact to form macromolecular assemblies, organelles and viruses. The aim is to understand the mechanisms and control gene expression, the three-dimensional organisation of cells, and how basic biological processes are integrated in whole organisms.

Initial site works included the enlargement of an existing roundabout and the construction of a new length of carriageway with footways; all to facilitate the erection of the principal laboratory building and an attendant Energy Centre.

The footprint of the main building is approximately 165m long and 67m wide. The three floors of main work-space, with associated interstitial floors, rise to a height of 19m. The height further increases to accommodate the central atrium and rooftop restaurant at 23m. Rising above the main bulk of the building, the plant towers and associated flues reach a maximum height of 35.5m.

Externally, the work-space and interstitial floors feature a layer of single glazing, behind which is another layer of double glazing for the work space and metal panel cladding to the interstitial floors. The layered nature of the glazing creates a void that acts as a thermal flue, providing insulation in the winter and the casting of shadow through a series of louvres and an escape for hot air in the summer. The plant towers are to be finished in a metal shingle.

The energy centre is 95m long on its northern side and at its widest 27m. It rises to a height of 13m and is finished with a mixture of pre-cast concrete panels and metal grilles.

At ground floor level the main entrance is located to the east (front) of the building. The first floor includes the addition of a lecture theatre at front of the building. The second floor mimics the basic layout of the floors below.

The workspace on each of the floors is arranged in parallel blocks that twist at opposing ends to create an ‘x’ chromosome shaped footprint on an east-west axis. The workspaces are separated by a central atrium that is bridged internally and acts as communal circulation space. A restaurant and coffee shop in the southwestern corner of the building comprises the third floor. This includes a terrace that runs along the southern and western edges of the roof.

Over each occupied floor is an interstitial floor. An interstitial floor is a floor level that specifically provides servicing and ventilation for the work-spaces below. This facilitates the majority of maintenance outside scientific areas and increases the building’s adaptability.

These floors in turn feed to a series of four external plant towers that supply and extract air. The advantage of this arrangement is that it avoids the stacking of plant on the roof and minimises vibration on the research space. An additional four plant towers are located centrally at the top of the building which provide secondary and specialist air handling.

To the north of the building, separated by a servicing yard, is an energy centre, accommodating heavy plant that will generate and distribute energy for the building. The physical separation of the energy centre from the main building simplifies maintenance, avoids disruption and helps minimise vibration.

The Cambridge Biomedical Campus provides exciting opportunities for expansion in new clinical services and research activities. Collectively this will put Cambridge at the forefront of initiatives to integrate prevention and treatment of disease with the development of new therapies and diagnostic techniques of the future.

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