A strict budget and onerous contractual conditions didn’t prevent Architecture PLB’s success in creating the Centre for Endemic, Emerging and Exotic Diseases at the Royal Veterinary College, writes Sutherland Lyall
The Centre for Endemic, Emerging and Exotic Diseases, designed by Architecture PLB, is a modest extension to the Royal Veterinary College’s existing facility, near Potters Bar in Hertfordshire. As any UK veterinary facility seems to attract the attention of the violently righteous, let it be said that no research on live animals takes place at the centre. It is devoted to finding cures for sick animals. Architecture PLB project director Rupert Cook explains the centre’s research focus: ‘Bird flu, anthrax, that sort of disease, [on] dead animals. Before agreeing to take on the job I asked if it was intended for vivisection. It wasn’t.’ The first of its kind in the UK, the centre brings together practitioners from different veterinary departments and represents a new way of thinking about public health.
The centre is part of an existing block on the Royal Veterinary College’s Hatfield campus because one of requisites for funding was extending the already existing facilities. The building has a two-storey elevation of cedar boarding: laid vertically from the window sills up, horizontally below. The eaves conceal the extensive rooftop plant.
How architects are appointed is always a bit of a mystery especially for architects. Cook explains: ‘I sit on the RIBA higher education forum, and got re-acquainted with the Royal Veterinary College head of estates. Some years ago we bid to join their framework. We didn’t get on to it, but he remembered the practice. For this project he was keen to have a practice that would work with the research team that would occupy the facility.’ Following some heavyweight competition, the college asked Architecture PLB to be its retained architect.
‘The building has a two-storey elevation of cedar boarding: laid vertically from the window sills up, horizontally below’
This was a standard JCT contract with quantities. The contractor, Bedford-based construction group SDC, tendered on Stage D information and was selected on price. When full, detailed information was available the final contract price was agreed.
Project architect Emily Rissom explains, ‘There were four in the main tender list and they were tendering on an outline spec. Category 3 labs [licensed to hold DEFRA Category 3 pathogens], have strict safety requirements. We wanted to know if they could deliver a building of this standard. Because nearly half the budget would go on M&E, they had to have a good relationship with their subcontractor. The estimated contract figure of just over £2 million was not big enough for the big contractors, so it was a short list.’
There was a complication because the client wanted to save money by supplying specialist equipment outside the contract. Not entirely surprisingly, this caused a few interconnection problems. Cook says: ‘It didn’t deliver cost savings. The problems were in managing the interface. Microbiological safety cabinets, for example, have to be integrated into the building’s fabric. But it was discussed and the client recognised the risk. The contractor was proactive everybody was. But it all depended on managing the supplier. If we did it again, I’m not sure we would go down the same route.’
One non-traditional element in the contract was the project manager. Cook says: ‘It was the client’s expectation that the project manager, Turner & Townsend, would provide risk management. Under the contract, we were the managers, but they were checking up on us. On a project of this scale it was a bit over the top. Sometimes it worked well.’ The architect’s appointment was under a GC works contract. Cook says: ‘Lawyers say that it is more onerous than RIBA standard terms. There is a clear duty to tell the client when consultants are not performing and when the client is not performing.
‘The client appointed the consultants we held interviews with three for each specialism. The M&E appointment was most important in the sense that expertise in labs was key. Services engineer Faber Maunsell has done a lot of labs.’
During the works, the project manager chaired regular meetings with the contractors. There were also meetings to update everybody on progress, and Rissom visited site once a week. Rissom says: ‘We issued variation orders but would try to discuss them with the project manager, who looked after change orders. The procedure for change orders was that the client would issue a change order, send it to us and we worked out what was involved and do the drawings and spec for it. If the client agreed, these were sent to the contractor to price up.’
Architecture PLB used the online version of the National Building Specification (NBS). Cook says, ‘It’s faster, always up to date with things like standards and has some named suppliers and guidance notes. We found it extremely useful.’
The NBS allows the contractor to suggest ‘or equal’ alternatives. Rissom says, ‘There weren’t an awful lot of changes because there were only a few alternatives. The client was [strict in terms] of clinical standards, as well as the colours and materials. They were actually supportive all the way though. But the contractor was very proactive, anticipated when things weren’t quite right and managed the subcontractors well.’
‘The seals allowed us not to have to rely on the skill of the contractors’
Surface materials were conventional enough: cedar cladding was employed rather than larch, which can be knotty and expensive. Idealcombi timber windows and Raico timber curtain walling was used for the entrance, with the two systems never meeting on the facade. There is Freudenberg rubber flooring in circulation and breakout spaces, and Altro vinyl flooring in all the labs. Allgood ironmongery was used on Optima doors.
The Category 3 labs’ walls and ceilings had to be sealed with several layers of Torlife WB, a reinforced hygiene-coating system. The most technologically important product was the Roxtec cable and pipe seals. Instead of having to route pipes and cut very accurate holes, pipes could go straight through walls using the Roxtec seals. Cook says, ‘They allowed us to have a large number of breakthroughs and not have to rely on the skill of the contractors.’
Client The Royal Veterinary College, University of London
Architects Architecture PLB: Rupert Cook, Emily Rissom, Patrick Cusack, Katherine Leat, Edward Francis
Main contractor SDC
Quantity surveyor Gardiner & Theobald
Structural engineer Price & Myers
Services engineer Faber Maunsell Project manager Turner & Townsend
Gross external floor area 700m2: 400m2 new build, 300m2 refurbishment
Total cost £3.3 million
Start on site January 2008
Completion on site January 2009