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Case study: Northern Institute for Cancer Research, the Paul O'Gorman Building at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne

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Theme: education buildings

This world-class research laboratory was designed specifi cally to accommodate the university's current disparate oncology research groups in a single state-of-the-art facility, writes Richard McDowell. The building is an exemplar for the new medical village campus being developed by the university, both in terms of the quality of the facilities and the quality of the research housed within.

Quality was an over-riding design driver for both the exterior and interior. Externally, the building has two faces: one reflecting the Framlington Place conservation area in which the building sits; the other reflecting the modern, hi-tech activities occurring within the building. Internally, the building's users require fl exible spaces that can adapt to changing working practices and changing research group sizes, while also promoting interaction and collaboration between researchers.

Look outside A new courtyard in front of the building provides a public space for researchers and the rest of the university community. Up from the courtyard, Colt brise-soleil covers part of the contemporary Sch³co aluminium and glass facade, protecting workers in the building from solar glare. This transparent wall provides views for researchers along the picturesque Framlington Place and into the heart of the university campus.

Towards the residential conservation area at the rear of the building, the brick of the houses is reflected on the rear wall of the research building (Blyth buff multi bricks by Ibstock). Horizontal and vertical Sch³co slot windows break the potential monotony.

Horizontal windows are placed high in each laboratory space, and vertical slots are fitted at oblique projecting angles to prevent views from the laboratories into the residences.

The rear brickwork extends 2m above the roof line to mask, both visually and acoustically, the mechanical plant on the roof. The decision to locate much of the plant on the roof reduced the internal plant-room area to less than 9 per cent of the building floor area.

Toward the front of the building, which is visible from some distance, plant has been kept to a minimum, with any significant equipment placed behind the lightweight metal screens of the flue towers (from Elland Steel Structures). These towers have sufficient capacity to house all current and future flue ductwork without recourse to the planners.

Services strategy Placing much of the plant on the roof was only part of a detailed strategic services strategy. Many other features of this strategy contribute to providing the high-quality, open and flexible internal spaces in the Paul O'Gorman building.

Vertical service shafts rise the full height of the building, terminating 6m above the roof line in the flue towers. These vertical shafts house distribution boards, fume cupboard and microbiological safety-cabinet flues, rainwater and drainage as well as data and piped services, and are of sufficient size and flexibility to allow future expansion.

Each shaft has an individual identifying colour (panels by Fermacell, paint by Dulux).

The impact inside the building is bold - more so because each floor is largely open plan, with only a glazed screen separating the laboratories from write-up areas.

Horizontal bulkheads run down the centre of each fl oor, providing generous ceiling voids for the lateral distribution of services to each room. The bulkheads provide a distribution zone in excess of that suggested by the relevant guidance, at the point where the volume of services is at its largest and most congested. The ceilings (by SAS) rise either side of the bulkhead to provide airier and more open laboratory and write-up environments; and this has been taken to its practical extreme by sloping the bulkhead as the service requirements decrease, raising the ceiling profile from 2,500mm at the bulkhead to 3,000mm at the perimeter of the rooms.

Within the ceiling void, care has been taken to maintain a clear route between structural beams for outgoing flues from fume cupboards and microbiological safety cabinets. This dedicated flue zone will ensure that, as future ducted equipment is added, other services will not be affected.

Final service distribution within laboratory spaces is organised to minimise disruption to adjacent spaces. Services routes are limited to the space that they serve, a philosophy supported by the 'every-otherbay' riser strategy. Services fan out from the bulkheads and are then routed either directly into the service spine of the peninsular Lab Systems laboratory benches, or across the ceiling void into service droppers built into the internal leaf of the external wall, and then from there to the service spine.

Service distribution to the write-up areas required a less complex, yet flexible, solution. Raised access floors were used for routing data cables and power.

Open spaces Developing a robust servicing strategy early in the design process resulted in an open-plan, unencumbered laboratory and write-up areas that can respond to changing user requirements over time. The openness fulfi ls the requirement for spaces that will encourage interaction between researchers and transparency between research activities.

A standard grid of 3.2 x 10m reflects the minimum back-to-back dimension for laboratory benching with a shared circulation zone, and allows a structural solution that minimises the number of internal columns.

There is simply a single mid-span column central to each fl oor. Columns within the laboratory space are encased within either the external cavity wall or the central riser zone, providing uncluttered laboratory areas that are easily sub-divided to cellular spaces with a 3.2m minimum width, to meet the requirements of research groups.

Write-up areas are fitted with furniture that facilitates 'hot-desking' and group working between the research staff. Personal papers will reside in 'knowledge lockers' developed by Project Office Systems. From their desks, researchers can look in one direction through the external glazed wall to activity on the university campus, and in the other direction they can watch fellow researchers through the glazed walls that divide the write-up areas from the laboratories. Everyone can share in the activities of others, encouraging learning and collaboration between researchers.

Natural light floods into the building through the glazed external wall and through the Coxdome atrium roof lights by Cox Building Products, providing a core of light in the centre of the building, bathing the full-height circulation stairwell (Elland Steel Structures and Westend Cabinet Makers) in light. The glazed internal walls extend the reach of the natural light within the building.

Sensitive to the needs of the users and the environment in which it sits, the building's design reflects the current worldclass researchers within, and encourages collaboration that will further improve the researchers of the future.

Richard McDowell is project director at FaulknerBrowns for the Northern Institute for Cancer Research

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