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Maurice Wohl Neuroscience Institute by Allies and Morrison with PM Devereux

King’s College London’s new research facility reconciles the technical demands of a specialist laboratory with the needs of those who work in it, says Tim Abrahams

PROJECT DATACLIENT’S VIEW • ARCHITECT’S VIEW • SPECIALIST’S VIEW • PLANS • COSTS

This is the second building that Allies and Morrison has collaborated on with healthcare specialist PM Devereux. On the first, Allies and Morrison came in at a late stage to design a narrow facade for a University College London building on Queen Square in Camden. The partnership has flourished. On the Maurice Wohl Institute – a 10,000m² building on the residential-facing, northern edge of King’s College London’s Denmark Hill campus – the relationship was closer. ‘PM Devereux was essentially responsible for the operational planning and we were responsible for spatial planning, including the planning application,’ says Allies and Morrison partner Paul Appleton.

This division of labour is not simply a matter of professional etiquette. In a building such as this, the relationship between plant, laboratory space, office and communal spaces is key. The research staff in the institute work primarily at the genetic level as opposed to sophisticated imaging techniques such as MRI scans. As a consequence, the building has a series of specialist wet laboratories for histology, bacteria shakers and other specialist facilities for stimulating and controlling cell cultures. These are situated at the heart of the building with the plant required to service them stacked above the core in a double storey on the roof above the south facade.

On one hand, the Maurice Wohl sits within the footprint of a series of terraced houses, previously used as hospital accommodation, which faced a suburban street. It is read firstly as a series of three distinct volumes, with the ground-floor plinth clad in concrete slabs containing a basalt aggregate the most immediate. To the east a second volume, stepped in plan, addresses the scale of the street and is dominated by large windows. The third is a stack of laboratories, clad in perforated brass shutters that have been allowed to patinate, which helps the building address the NBBJ-designed James Black Memorial building, a research facility completed in 2007, to the west.

But you could also say that the Maurice Wohl in fact sits within its own context: namely two slabs of plant, those stacked on the roof but also another slab in an interstitial basement level. On one level the building is literally a machine, although it is not legible as such. A building like, say, the Evelina Children’s Hospital by Hopkins Architects (completed in 2005) may not literally expose the incredibly complex array of services used in modern hospitals, but it is still legible as a series of technical systems: ascending floor slabs viewed through the atrium, an extravagant roof form which stretches over the building, and the brightly coloured lifts.

But the priority at the Maurice Wohl is not systems but volumes. Allies and Morrison and PM Devereux have created a series of discrete volumes which delineate thresholds between writing-up space, generic, and specialist lab spaces in what is a rapidly evolving new building typology. They do so with ingenuity and no small humanity. The slender atrium, beyond the enclosed, deliberately secure reception is one example. The self-seeding green roof above the protruding second floor as well as remnants of the triangular front gardens on the street elevation are another.

Instead, apart from one important exception, this is a building of volumes in which the ingenuity is not just to address a complicated existing context but also to imagine a future scenario without a masterplan. The stack of plant on the south side raises the building to a height of six stories. Currently this is justified because the highest elevation faces the approach from the main entrance. However, it is believed that in the future the central car park which intervenes shall be redeveloped with a significant structure. This is a building which champions the yet-uncreated masterplan it should be part of.

And yet there is also one intriguing and charming detail to the building which relates to the machine poetics of the past century. It is no secret that a crop of current architects find facades if not problematic, then at least not their specific area of expertise. Practices are comfortable working with artists to create ingenious facade details to varying degrees of success. The problem with this approach is that the facade can poetically feel separated from the internal workings of the building. It is literally an add-on.

What lifts the Maurice Wohl beyond being a competent product of volumetric analysis and craft is the shuttering system that wraps around the building on its second, third and fourth floors. Ostensibly the mechanically-operated, perforated brass shutters are to compensate for heat gain along a completely glazed frontage, highly unusual for laboratories but to the institute’s director, Chris Shaw, important. For him, the purpose of full glazing was not just to allow staff to see out, but also to permit a generous view in.

The panels are nominally a means of addressing the solar gain. However, they also represent a key architectural feature relating to the building’s purpose and usage. Each bay can control its own shutters mechanically (although the building manager has yet to the let the keys out of her grasp). Still they are moved when needed and the system has an override which returns them to a safe position at night. Through this process, even under the control of a formidable manager, the shutters reconcile randomness and order in a manner entirely appropriate to a research institute. At night, light from the lab seeps out through the perforations.

We express ourselves through our machines and the way in which we own them. Despite the sophisticated specialist laboratory services the Maurice Wohl provides, refrigeration for the cell cultures is actually contained within dozens and dozens of domestic fridges, each owned by a particular research group, whose names and mobile phone numbers are stuck on the side alongside the digital thermometer that will set off an alarm if the temperature varies too greatly, plus the odd fridge magnet. This strange personality of machines is something that this building alludes to and uses to disarming effect.

Ground floor plan

Maurice Wohl Neuroscience Institute by Allies and Morrison with PM Devereux

Maurice Wohl Neuroscience Institute by Allies and Morrison with PM Devereux

First floor plan

Maurice Wohl Neuroscience Institute by Allies and Morrison with PM Devereux

Maurice Wohl Neuroscience Institute by Allies and Morrison with PM Devereux

Second floor plan

Maurice Wohl Neuroscience Institute by Allies and Morrison with PM Devereux

Maurice Wohl Neuroscience Institute by Allies and Morrison with PM Devereux

Exploded axonometric sketch

Maurice Wohl Neuroscience Institute by Allies and Morrison with PM Devereux

Maurice Wohl Neuroscience Institute by Allies and Morrison with PM Devereux

Client’s view

The Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute is more than just a building. It offers our neuroscientists world-class facilities and equipment and, more importantly, an exceptional opportunity to exchange ideas and expertise with some of the best minds in the business. Our 250 researchers will be working across disciplines to advance our understanding of the molecular, cellular and functional basis of neurological and psychiatric disorders and change the therapeutic options for our patients. The most important elements for success are a shared mission and a spirit of collaboration.

Chris Shaw, director, Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute 

Maurice Wohl Neuroscience Institute by Allies and Morrison with PM Devereux

Maurice Wohl Neuroscience Institute by Allies and Morrison with PM Devereux

Source: Stale Eriksen

Architect’s view

The building appears to sit on a plinth of precast concrete, its ground floor, which is articulated to reflect the relationship of the spaces inside with its landscape; the plinth is cut away to reveal less private spaces such as a prominent, fully-glazed café. The white pre-cast concrete panels are softened by a natural stone mix.

Above this base, the building’s massing, from a taller linear block that addresses the institutional buildings of the campus to the more modest articulated terraced form of the Cutcombe Road elevation, is described with a connective metal surface.

The Cutcombe Road elevation required a more particular response to its residential context. Here the smaller scale ‘write-up’ spaces have been fragmented into a series of pavilions that follow the curve of the street, adopting a familiar domestic rhythm and scale. These new pavilions respect the line of the previous houses on Cutcombe Road and are orientated towards the main hospital, so that they do not overlook the residential streets to their east.

The laboratory spaces are enclosed by a perforated ‘veil’ of motorised brass panels. Thus solar gain and privacy are controlled independently by researchers, promoting an animated and responsive facade. The perforated metal veil continues upwards to conceal the plant at roof level and gives a lightweight, translucent quality to the top of the building.

An intermediate scaled block sits next to the open laboratories, in the centre of the plan, containing more heavily services laboratory spaces requiring a controlled environment, with limited natural daylight.

Allies and Morrison

Maurice Wohl Neuroscience Institute by Allies and Morrison with PM Devereux

Maurice Wohl Neuroscience Institute by Allies and Morrison with PM Devereux

Source: Stale Eriksen

Specialist’s view

The layout adjacencies are configured to provide a logical and easy flow of personnel through the building, utilising as much natural light as possible. 

The primary research laboratories are located on the ground, first, second and third floor levels along the west side of the building where they are accommodated in column free areas, which also have the benefit of natural daylight.

The larger of the laboratories benefit from access to the write-up areas and secondary laboratories, with central corridor and bridge links.

The secondary specialist laboratories are positioned between the primary laboratories and write-up areas to enable access from both areas. These laboratories do not require natural daylight, so are positioned within the centre of the building in the deep plan area. 

Offices and write-up spaces are positioned along the south and east sides of the building where there is ample daylight and access to balconies. The glazed rooflight over the central atrium between the ground and first level Write-up areas has the benefit of bringing more natural daylight into the deeper plan area.

Glazed screen frontages to the offices also allow more light to penetrate into the write-up areas.

Each level has its own colour theme, manifesting in feature walls and furniture. 

A café and seminar area is located on the ground floor at the south of the building for maximum views out to the wider campus. The café draws people in from the surrounding area, as well as providing a focal point within the building.

PM Devereux

Maurice Wohl Neuroscience Institute by Allies and Morrison with PM Devereux

Maurice Wohl Neuroscience Institute by Allies and Morrison with PM Devereux

Source: Stale Eriksen

Project data 

Start on site May 2011
Completion June 2015
Area 9,611m²
Architect Allies and Morrison with PM Devereux
Client King’s College London
Structural engineer Aecom
QS Turner & Townsend
Project manager Mace
Main contractor Morgan Sindall
Services engineer Hoare Lea
Landscape architect PM Devereux
Fire consultant Lawrence Webster Forrest
Planning consultant Metropolis    

Maurice Wohl Neuroscience Institute by Allies and Morrison with PM Devereux

Maurice Wohl Neuroscience Institute by Allies and Morrison with PM Devereux

Source: Stale Eriksen

Costs

 COST PER M² (£)PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL
SUBSTRUCTURE 128 3%
   
SUPERSTUCTURE  
Frame 465 11%
Roof 31 1%
External walls 514 12%
Windows Inc. 0%
Internal walls and partitions 136 3%
Internal doors 16 0%
GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL 1,161 28%
   
INTERNAL FINISHES  
Wall finishes 46 1%
Floor finishes 30 1%
Ceiling finishes 21 1%
GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL 98 2%
   
FITTINGS AND FURNISHINGS  
Furniture 309 8%
   
SERVICES 1640 40%
Water installations 2 0.10%
Space heating and air treatment 4 0.10%
Electrical services 1 0.03%
Lift installations 38 1%
GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL 1,686 41%
   
EXTERNAL WORKS 133 3%
   
PRELIMINARIES AND INSURANCE 598 15%
   
TOTAL  4,113

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