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Alsop/Amec reveal £33m 'jewel'

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Alsop Architects and Amec have finally revealed their dramatic proposals for a £33.5 million medical research facility in east London (AJ 13.9.01).

The scheme has now been placed before Tower Hamlets planners who, according to the architects, have already made 'positive' noises about the proposal. CABE, too, is understood to like the scheme.

Designed for Queen Mary University of London, the 9,000m 2complex is considered to be the 'jewel' in the centre of a much larger redevelopment. Llewelyn-Davies has already masterplanned what is currently an awkward campus of medical buildings in Whitechapel, which includes the Royal London Hospital.

A new PFI hospital is due to be commissioned soon - but the Alsop/Amec team is hoping that its scheme will 'embarrass' the winning PFI consortium into producing a quality building, said Amec's director of architecture Colin Gilmore-Merchant.

Will Alsop, who said the concept was developed with the client over 'evenings of fun, serious discussion and a few glasses of red wine', agreed.

'It would have been very easy to design this as one building which was both hermetic and offputting, ' he said. 'Our aim is to create a space that avoids the traditionally sanitised environment of laboratory research buildings. Here, the fabric of the building 'speaks' about science.'

The proposal is for a pair of buildings separated by a public avenue. The buildings will sit over an open-plan, basement-level research floor, accommodating 400 researchers studying a range of illnesses including cancer, diabetes, TB and HIV.

Apart from a staff cafe, one building is to be exclusively dedicated to plant, allowing M&E changes to be made without interfering with the work of researchers in the adjacent development.

But unusually for a centre such as this, the research block is also to include an educational facility for local schoolchildren. Funded by a £70,000 grant from NESTA, the 'centre of the cell' pod, suspended within the building, represents the first time that a European medical research establishment has been designed with access for young children in mind.

Crucially, the research building has been designed as an open-plan space to encourage 'serendipity' and break down the barriers that traditionally characterise academia.

'People largely don't talk to each other. . . We've designed this building to stop this, ' said college warden Professor Nick Wright.

Nevertheless, the scheme does contain an 'office beam' - a two-storey internal structure running the length of the building, accommodating private offices and administration rooms.

Detailed design begins in a fortnight. Both the architects and St Mary's staff hope the project will be completed by Easter 2004.

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