Health and Life Sciences, University of Reading

This £55m building forms part of a major development to establish a ‘Health & Life Sciences’ zone within the University of Reading’s Whiteknights Campus.

The University of Reading is developing a new ‘Health and Life Sciences Teaching Zone’ to support their strategic commitment to the life sciences, which they regard as a key scientific area with sustained long-term growth potential.

Complex rationalisation and phasing
The new Health and Life Sciences Building is a critical part of that commitment. Located on the Whiteknights Campus in Reading, the project provides a new-build home for the School of Biological Sciences, which used to be spread across four outdated buildings, all of which will eventually be demolished.

Future-resilient design
Appointed in 2015, our brief was to oversee the enabling works and design a new building that provides flexible, future-resilient teaching and research laboratory space. Not only must the finished building be capable of holding both small and very large classes of students in its teaching laboratories, it must also accommodate future evolution in the subjects the University teaches and its fields of research.

The resulting new multi-purpose building will house the Departments of Ecology and Environmental Biology, Biomedical Science, and Bioinformatics. It comprises a central atrium featuring a café and the University’s Cole Museum of Zoology, with spectacular displays that include a False Killer Whale and the skeleton of a large elephant.

Rational high-tech layout
Two asymmetrical wings flank the atrium. The smaller three-floor wing will contain write-up and collaboration spaces, and offices.

The larger of the wings – 50 m x 20 m – will contain four storeys of state-of-the-art wet laboratories, topped by a floor of plant.

A ‘superlab’ will occupy the ground floor, used for teaching undergraduates and a further two floors of Containment Level 2 labs will be used by researchers in the Institute of Cardiovascular and Molecular Research (ICMR), Ecology and Environmental Biology and Micro-biology.

Innovative flexibility
We developed the ‘superlab’ after analysing the University’s teaching needs. The space occupies the wing’s entire footprint. In its largest configuration, it can seat 280 students at once. A sophisticated AV system ensures that all students can see and hear the lecturer. When classes are smaller, the space can be easily subdivided into several configurations, ultimately into two 80-seat and two 60-seat labs.

Enabling a shared asset culture for added value
Our design for the two floors of Containment Level 2 labs imports best practice in lab planning. By encouraging an open culture of sharing assets – controlled environment rooms, microscopy, tissue culture suites, freezer and cold rooms – between different disciplines, it is possible to optimize the use of energy, equipment, and space.

This shared asset culture also sets the stage for better collaboration between otherwise isolated disciplines. We beat best-practice space efficiency benchmarks by about 20 % by planning our lab layouts carefully. The net-to-gross internal area ratio is kept high, reducing the budgeted cost per m2 of useable space accordingly.

Effective collaboration
We collaborated closely with our engineering partners to ensure that the architectural form could accommodate the needs of all the specialist systems and technical equipment. As a consequence, the structure in the laboratory wing is optimally efficient, controlling structural vibration without unnecessary waste. This same economy of design keeps service distribution flexible.