Buildings for scientific research

Two UK businesses have invested in new buildings that provide cutting-edge research and development facilities

Two UK businesses – one with a large roster of well-known consumer brands, the other specialising in biotechnology – have both invested in new buildings that provide cutting-edge research and development facilities. Report by Veronica Simpson and Sophie Tolhurst.

RB Plc

Words by Veronica Simpson
Images by Alex Wroe Photography

At a time of great uncertainty and economic turbulence in the UK, it is heartening to report that one of the major global health, hygiene and nutrition companies has completed a new £105m addition to its historic Hull base. This once-thriving port city, where in 1840 Isaac Reckitt set up his original business – which is known today as Reckitt Benckiser or RB – now boasts the biggest research and development hub of the company’s six worldwide centres and leads the way in product formulation, analysis and innovation.

A few years back, RB – which owns a list of brands including Dettol, Strepsils and Durex – commissioned Ryder Architecture to create a Science and Innovation Centre that demonstrates the latest in working and research practice and encourages collaboration among the 800 research and marketing staff.

Ryder Architecture has achieved this feat in two bold moves: by adding a new, space-age, 10,000m2 GMP (good manufacturing practice) laboratory building in an ‘L’ formation alongside two early 20th-century structures – the Kingston Works North (KWN) Building and the Humber Suite – and connecting them via a large and attractive internal atrium space.

Scott Brownrigg transformed the interior of the KWN buildingScott Brownrigg transformed the interior of the KWN building

This space, sandwiched between the old and the new, provides a clear distinction between the two eras. Flooded with top light, and traversed at each level via gleaming white metal stairs and bridges, which zigzag in a playful ‘Harry Potter’s scar’ style across its 10m-plus width, this link space has been dubbed the ‘Innovation Pathway’, and forms both the circulation and the social heart of the campus.

In keeping with the client’s stated collaborative agenda, the project itself was a collaboration between Ryder and the interior design team at Scott Brownrigg, who were tasked with transforming the KWN Building and the Humber Suite into contemporary office, meeting and recreational facilities, with the full complement of modern, flexible work options.

The Innovation PathwayThe Innovation Pathway

The two-storey Humber Suite dates back to the 1920s, and Isaac Reckitt’s son James’s era at the helm of the company. Says Ryder associate and project architect Toby Ingle: ‘We created a new executive meeting suite on the upper floor while the ground floor accommodation provides a mix of office, cafe and less formal meeting spaces. A new feature staircase and forum space links the ground floor up to the more heritage first floor.’ Large, glazed apertures on the first floor give full views onto the Innovation Pathway atrium.

The KWN building has received a much more substantial makeover, with Ryder leading on the external renovation to bring building performance up to 21st-century specifications. The 4,500m2 interior was stripped out completely. Says Ingle: ‘We relined all of the soffits, lined and damp-proofed all the external walls, replaced the windows, and upgraded the roof finishes.’

break-out spaces encourage collaboration among the 800 research and marketing staffBreak-out spaces encourage collaboration among the 800 research and marketing staff

Scott Brownrigg took over with the interiors, transforming the four floors into a mixture of working options, from open-plan team-working spaces to collaborative break-out zones and a range of meeting rooms. ‘We have created different environments, in complete contrast to what was there before: everything from the rooms we have for training areas, to the tea point and collaboration spaces, have their own look and feel,’ says Scott Brownrigg director Beatriz Gonzalez.

The ground floor now has a large staff restaurant, with softer lighting and more of a ‘hospitality atmosphere’, says Gonzalez. The palette used throughout was inspired by RB’s signature colours – green, blue and pink – and these tones are deployed strategically to aid wayfinding. For materials, a lot of reclaimed items were used. ‘With the massive refurbishment of the KWN building, we were able to reutilise some of the previous elements, such as the old timber floors, as feature areas, and reuse furniture elements in the cafe,’ says Gonzalez, who adds that this drive for sustainability in furnishings and fittings came from both the design and client teams: ‘RB is very proud of its heritage. They have been on the same site for over 100 years, so they wanted to make sure we made reference to some of the history, and the history of the site.’ Even some of the archive marketing and packaging designs have been cleverly referenced into feature area graphics and patterns, along with social spaces that refer to the company’s huge geographic reach.

Ryder’s brand new GMP building houses RB’s state-of-the-art laboratoriesRyder’s brand new GMP building houses RB’s state-of-the-art laboratories

Ryder’s brand new GMP building houses RB’s state-of-the-art laboratories and a novel consumer testing suite for the full range of bath and shower products, including wet booths and an immersion room with 3D projection technology. Among its new features are bespoke spaces for all the different research and testing groups, from its consumer science testing team to formulators and analytical chemists. The centre of the development is a fully enclosed GMP-compliant pilot facility in which RB can simulate factory conditions on a smaller scale to enable trials and batches to be put through their paces in a controlled environment. Engineering consultancy Hurley Palmer Flatt worked closely with Ryder on building services to ensure both efficiency and flexibility. One key feature of this new GMP building is the location of the large air plants at the end of each floor, rather than centrally. This means the floor plates can adapt to whatever future configurations are required, while an added innovation on the top floor is removable ceiling panels so that new or outsized laboratory machinery can be lifted in or out directly from above, without compromising clean room protocols in the surrounding labs.

This GMP building, the roof height of which aligns with the four-storey KWN building, only has three storeys, partly to accommodate the higher ceilings needed for all the laboratory plant and infrastructure, but also so that the ground floor could be raised by 2m, to improve flood resilience as the campus is on a flood plain. While glazing along the interior facade allows staff and visitors at all levels tantalising views of the science being conducted within, it’s the top floor that offers maximum engagement, with a gallery walkway running the full length of the building allowing visitors greater access and insight into the science and research conducted in the labs. Says Ingle: ‘They can observe things like limited run testing of viability of products, and see the science without having to get gowned up.’

The mixture of working spaces and break-out zones includes the ‘huddle room’The mixture of working spaces and break-out zones includes the ‘huddle room’

Full-height glazing – between the labs and the atrium on the second and first floors – reinforces that visual engagement with the science. There will be a constant flow of staff between the GMP and KWN buildings, says Ingle, via the Innovation Pathway: ‘We grew this idea very early in the project, about connecting labs to offices. The lab building doesn’t have many of the traditional write-up spaces embedded within it. A lot of the analysis is computer and desk-based, so those desks are in the office space.’ With scientists’ desks placed at the threshold of the Innovation Pathway, they can be at the lab benches or at their desks within a couple of minutes.

While Ryder ensured that this connective infrastructure worked aesthetically and ergonomically, Scott Brownrigg had to make it inhabitable. ‘The Innovation Pathway is the big catalyst for collaborative activity,’ says Gonzalez. ‘At ground floor we have a cafe, and a grab-and-go area. We have tiered seating for presentations. There are comfortable break-out spaces at the threshold of each bridge. It’s about bringing the workforce together in the same place at a central point as well as making sure that there are places for those serendipitous conversations to happen over a cup of coffee.’

The tactile and sculptural shape and materials of the modern GMP building – its concrete structure is clad in an open-mesh metal cladding over an anthracite base – both complements and contrasts with the adjacent, heritage brick building, adding a contemporary element. ‘As you move around the building there are subtle changes to the facade,’ says Ingle. ‘At the back of house you get a different view. In some cases, the mesh oversails the windows to provide screening.’

Sustainability has been a priority, with Ryder taking major steps to improve the existing buildings’ performance and meet the latest benchmarks for the new laboratories. Other features have been designed in or added, including photovoltaic cells, and rainwater harvesting and reuse in non-critical areas. The building is on track to receive LEED Gold accreditation.

This state-of-the-art campus also features upgraded public landscaping. Ryder’s team was commissioned to improve the surrounding area, and added a wildflower garden and sensory courtyard that offers outdoor seating to restaurant and cafe customers. In terms of cultural impact, Ingle is confident the interventions and additions by Ryder and Scott Brownrigg will enhance what was already there: ‘I think there is a real ethos of sociability at the core of RB. Lunchtimes especially were a really sociable event already. I noticed over the three or four years I have been travelling to Hull, the whole company is very team-led. But because of the new connectivity, scientists, manufacturing and business support colleagues are more likely to cross paths with each other every day. It provides them with a real opportunity to grow that culture.’

RB PLC, Hull office
Architecture and landscaping
Ryder Architecture
Scott Brownrigg
Humber Suite: 600m2, GMP building 10,000m2, KWN: 4,500m2
Spring 2020
Hurley Palmer Flatt (building services)

Hampton Waterworks Riverdale Buildings

Words by Sophie Tolhurst
Images by Emanuelis Stasaitis

Built in 1852 by the engineer Joseph Quick, the Hampton Waterworks is a Grade II listed former Victorian pumping station, which by 1900 was providing a large proportion of London’s daily water supply. After laying empty for 70 years, Chapman Architects was commissioned to convert the space into laboratories for biotech company Touchlight.

One of Touchlight’s investors saw great potential in the unusual Riverdale site as a location for the biotechnology business. It might seem a strange choice, but Touchlight CEO Jonny Ohlson does describe the company as ‘an unconventional biotech’. As he explains: ‘[Touchlight and the investor] both agreed that it would make wonderful laboratories: the theory being that if you built the best laboratories in the world you would attract the world’s best scientists.’

The original concept designer, Belu Architectural Design, had to withdraw from the project, so Chapman Architects was commissioned to develop the design, reapply for planning and deliver the first phase.

For phase 1 (with three further phases to come) Chapman Architects focused on the Riverdale Workshop & Smithy, the Riverdale Arcade, and the Riverdale Boiler House
For phase 1 (with three further phases to come) Chapman Architects focused on the Riverdale Workshop & Smithy, the Riverdale Arcade, and the Riverdale Boiler House

As director Greg Chapman explains, the practice’s approach to working with the listed building was ‘simple and consistent, being the refurbishment of the best existing building fabric’. Original features were retained where possible, and pastiche was avoided for new additions. ‘New construction can be easily seen, but utilises an appropriate “engineered” aesthetic that complements the existing building,’ he says.

Significant restoration was necessary, including attention to the slate-covered roofs, and thermal upgrading in areas such as the Workshop Building. Sadly, the original vast chimneys were already lost, having been removed in the 1950s just before the site was Grade II listed.

‘The priority is to meet the tenants’ needs, both operationally and technically, whilst respecting the existing buildings,’ says Chapman.

One of the challenges has been to ensure all components for the scheme fit through the ‘front door’ so that construction can continue while the campus remains operational. Chapman compares this to ‘putting the proverbial “ship in a bottle”’One of the challenges has been to ensure all components for the scheme fit through the ‘front door’ so that construction can continue while the campus remains operational. Chapman compares this to ‘putting the proverbial “ship in a bottle”’

At the heart of the redesign was the creation of the central laboratory in the Arcade Building, which was originally used to store coal. The space has been converted to an open-plan arrangement over two floors, comprising a ‘studio-style’ laboratory space, offices and a two-storey reception area. Chapman Architects has also redesigned the Boiler House, to offer further laboratory spaces supplementing a mezzanine suite of ISO 7 clean rooms for the production of DNA, while the Workshop Building is used as an open-plan conference space.

Large, arched windows have a transformative effect on the environment of the lab; rather than feeling sealed-off and sterile, it is visually connected to the outside and to the history of the site. The arches previously housed roller shutters, but now glazed they bring in abundant light. From outside, however, with the glazing set back and using dark grey mullions in place of white, the darkened arches allow the elevation to appear unchanged.

Unifying the spaces internally is a streamlined material palette, with materials such as brick, steel, glass and timber chosen to complement the Victorian industrial aesthetic.

Large, arched windows bring in abundant light to office and lab spacesLarge, arched windows bring in abundant light to office and lab spaces

Throughout, the original pale green of the abundant original steel and iron columns and ceiling trusses stands out and defines the space. New design elements, such as a laser-cut DNA pattern on the new blackened steel stair balustrades, provide opportunities ‘to add to the evolving history’ of the site, Chapman explains.

The next phase, concerning the Engine House, offers Chapman Architects a ‘fantastic opportunity to contrast the Victorian engineering aesthetic with modern technology’. ‘Here, full advantage is taken to construct a simple, elegant steel frame to provide office space that also allows one to appreciate the full volume of the Engine House itself. Just as the original intention was to provide an envelope that provides cover to the beam engines it housed, so now it will provide shelter to a free-standing structure that provides workspace, rather than steam,’ Chapman says.

Large, arched windows bring in abundant light to office and lab spacesLarge, arched windows bring in abundant light to office and lab spaces

Touchlight has great ambitions for what it wants to achieve on the site, with it aiming ‘to produce the DNA to fill the global demands of the next generation of vaccines and therapies’. The firm feels the inspiring setting and creative conversion of the Riverdale site will help its team do the job, and Ohlson is excited about the prospects: ‘The scientists realise they are in an environment that encourages them to be brilliant. The cornerstone is innovation.’

Architects and designers
Chapman Architects and Belu
Architectural Design
Cost consultant
Service engineers
GDM Partnership
Structural engineers
Hockley & Dawson | Ling Engineering |

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