top of page

Designing future science and innovation districts

Bruntwood SciTech's campus at Alderley Park, Cheshire (Image from BDP)

Future Cities Forum discussed the importance of skills development in the UK through new university projects, how investment can produce more flexible sites for start-ups to grow and the design of innovation centres to focus that growth towards sucsess for the economy of the country.

Bruntwood SciTech, BDP, BioMed Realty, Anglia Ruskin University and Grimshaw all took part in the debate.

Dr Kath MacKay, Head of Life Sciences at Bruntwood SciTech is responsible for developing the life science vision and strategy for Bruntwood SciTech, external affairs, and developing sector specific innovation services and investment support for the life sciences business across the network of campuses. Kath also oversees Alderley Park - the UK’s largest single- site life science campus - the new £210m Birmingham Health Innovation Campus, and Citylabs in Manchester, the world-leading health innovation and precision medicine campus in partnership with Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust.

Kath joined Bruntwood SciTech from the executive board of Innovate UK where she led the team responsible for growing and scaling businesses working in the biomedical, health, agriculture and food sectors, creating and delivering a £700m portfolio of infrastructure, Catapults, grant and loan investments. Kath is also Non-Executive Director of the Northern Health Science Alliance, the North of England’s health partnership, UKRI’s National Biofilms Innovation Centre, and Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership.

In March 2020 Bruntwood SciTech, which is a 50:50 joint venture between Bruntwood and Legal & General - announced the acquisition of Melbourn Science Park near Cambridge for £46.2 million, in order to develop a new masterplan for the 16.4 acre site; creating a long term vision for the growth of the science park as a leading science and technology cluster in Cambridge.

The new strategic partnership will see Bruntwood SciTech and TTP, which has many years of experience of working in life sciences, combine forces to support the further growth and development of the Park and establish a new Innovation Services programme which will provide Bruntwood SciTech’s wider community of over 500 science and technology businesses based in their other business parks and buildings with additional access to venture capital, new markets, products and prototyping opportunities.

Bruntwood say this will complement the Park’s new life sciences incubator, further leveraging TTP’s expertise in science and engineering innovation and helping to create new exclusive links across Bruntwood SciTech’s network of innovation districts.

'Science innovation districts' panel at Newnham Cambridge (from left): Keith Papa of BDP, Fiona McGonigle of ARU Peterborough, Alex Grigull of Grimshaw, Heather Fearfield of Future Cities Forum, Dr Kath Mackay of Bruntwood SciTech, and Orestis Tzortzoglou of BioMed Realty.

Dr Mackay commented at the forum:

'We support companies around ideas and work to get them funding. We work with academic and clinical partners around the UK. We have direct access to scientists to develop their products and we are really excited to come into the Cambridge region, to develop our site at Cambourne where we see real potential.

'When we develop sites, it isn't a case of one size fits all. We have principles we can take to all sites but we are really thinking about the core anchor institutions there, what does the talent base look like. In Cheshire, at the former AstraZeneca site we are concentrating on the history of drug discovery, in Birmingham, with the focus on the core strengths of the university, we are looking at health data and digital medical technology and in Cambridge, how life sciences and tech meets in the middle.

'We do have concerns about whether enabling infrastructure is in place and skill levels across the UK. The talent and skills piece is so important. The UK has an issue with talent in life sciences at all levels and this can stifle growth of industry. We are working very hard to get graduates into each of our sites, and we use global recruiters to find senior people as well. We are working with post-16 education too and all of this is to create the volume of people we need into our companies.'

Architecture firm BDP says it works with clients at the cutting edge of research and technology to foster and inspire world class discovery, creating places that celebrate science as a cultural activity. Its designs it says respond to the rapid pace of change in R&D and the demand for open, agile and interactive places for scientific research. Examples of its work include the technology and innovation centre at the University of Strathclyde, the AstraZeneca headquarters in Cambridge, The Maxwell Centre and separately the Nanoscience Centre at the University of Cambridge, the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the Penryn Campus for the University of Exeter and the Bio-Therapeutics Hub for Innovation for BioAberdeen.

Above - the internal courtyard of AstraZeneca's Discovery Building on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus (Image from BDP)

Keith Papa, Architect Director, Head of Science, Research and Technology at BDP said:

'Our work with AZ and with Bruntwood is a case of integration rather than just co-location. We draw together everyone, for instance in Aberdeen, the local NHS partnership and business community - for collaboration because we believe this makes for better results and better buildings. People moving into these buildings don't always know how their research business will grow, it's one thing when they start out, quite another three years later. We do scenario thinking to encompass the widest range of activity that these businesses will core and try to dissipate the cost hungry nature of the building projects. The range of tenants can be varied and as in our design for the Maxwell Centre in Cambridge, although dedicated to physics, we have seen research into chemistry, biology and engineering, take place there. The tenants develop their ideas from discussion with businesses and so these buildings will grow and develop with the changing nature of activity within them.

On the sustainability of growth for science centres and creating attractive spaces for tenants and their families to work and live, Keith commented:

'The demand pre-pandemic for space was huge hence the building for Google at King's Cross and I don't think we need to focus activity in small areas, as cutting edge research will always create new clusters. The Midlands will have different expertise than Cambridge and all areas need to grow in varied ways. But we do need to consistently attract talent and people want to be around high class institutions and networks. Place is important and at our Alderley Park development in Cheshire, the mere and woodlands are wonderful around the hub building. It is not austere and not just a nine to five place.'

BioMed Realty - a Blackstone portfolio company - brought a range of global knowledge to our discussions as well as deep expertise on creating flexible and attractive innovation spaces for young life science companies to grow in Cambridge. The firm has been developing over 13.7 million square feet of rentable space worldwide in locations such as Boston, Seattle, San Diego and at Granta Park and Babraham in Cambridge as well as looking for opportunities in London. It describes itself as a leading provider of real estate solutions for the life science and technology industries, offering partners a wider range of options, from traditional office space to small lab space to state-of-the-art build-to-suit life science properties.

Orestis Tzortzoglou, Development Director, Biomed Realty described the company's aim:

'BioMed maintains a premier development platform with 3.1 million square feet of Class A properties in active construction to meet the growing demand of the life science industry. We are not just about buildings, we help tenants grow their best talent. Of course infrastructure, density of housing, transport links and amenity spaces in neighbourhoods are all important to help science cities grow, but we offer flexibility over three to four years to our tenants in an effort to try to create highly adaptable spaces to attract start-ups.

'It is important to take the long view - perhaps over 30 to 50 years - in investing in particular places. We need to think about the life of a tenant, thinking say in five years' time how they need to grow. We can move our tenants around because of our flexible leasing structure and break clauses, so we can facilitate growth or scale down for a tenant and help them in how they are running their business.

Orestis talked about the recent UK government news on the change of focus away from the Arc to the North, saying that they had the same dilemma post Brexit:

'We need to take a step back and look at the longer time frame. The University of Cambridge has existed for hundreds of years. But an interesting question is how do you replicate Cambridge elsewhere? It is not simple, but rather complex, in re-creating the success of the Cambridge cluster. Government funding in research and development remains among the first in the world but there are current concerns around housing shortages and making transport work to continue to make Cambridge a desirable place to live and work. We need a holistic approach and offer choice particularly around the commute with cycling infrastructure and making buses reliable.'

To tackle the subject of the skills shortage in science cities, Future Cities Forum gave a focus in the discussion to the new campus development for Anglia Ruskin University based in Peterborough. ARU Peterborough will support the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough City Council vision to deliver a step-change in life chances for people in Peterborough and beyond, helping to improve and retain the skills of people in the region while also bringing additional opportunity and prosperity to the area.

It has been created to address a higher education cold spot, widen participation by attracting a diverse student population from non-traditional backgrounds to improve social mobility and to redress the skills gaps within businesses and industries across Peterborough and the rest of the region. Peterborough is in the bottom 10% of the UK's skills levels. The new university will be known as ARU Peterborough until it achieves full independence in 2030.

We asked Fiona McGonigle, Business Engagement and Innovation Lead for ARU Peterborough to join the panel. Fiona is helping to develop the new university campus at Peterborough for Anglia Ruskin University and talked about the real need to grow talent in the UK:

'We need to develop skills to meet the needs and pressures of industry in the UK and I am lucky to be working with Anglia Ruskin which is opening a new campus in Peterborough this year and attracting businesses to the region. I have been talking to 500 plus businesses including Bruntwood and also other organisations such as Cambridge University Health Partners. We are attempting to bring the strength of the South up to the North and we are getting a lot of interest and people wanting to work with us. We are opening up a new research facility and have received £20 million of levelling up funding from the Government. We will create a 'living lab' and I am setting up twelve sector interest groups.

'We need to ask what kind of graduate do we want? We need to focus on people skills and talent gaps in data science and AI among other areas, and the importance of that and the global relevance. All courses have been designed with employability in mind and two hundred of these have been co-designed with businesses. There is so much interest in what we are doing that the model emerging in Peterborough will also be taken down South to other campuses.

'I have also been working with transport companies because the transport across the fenlands isn't so good and needs to improve. Businesses want to relocate and they are confident about a move to the region, so we must have the connectivity. Peterborough in some senses has been left behind and has high unemployment but it is lending itself to increase the skill sets within the region. We are bringing in an NHS Trust to the Peterborough campus which is very good and I am contacting local schools to create awareness and connection.'

Trying to listen to student voices in how they want to study post pandemic and what the quality of learning spaces should be is something that Grimshaw Associate Alex Grigull, spoke about at the forum.

Alex explained:

'Students have been studying online during he pandemic and we need to understand what the 'student bedroom' should be to facilitate their learning. This is something we haven't considered before. We need to hear the student voice and understand 24-hour user experience in the buildings and places we design. We need to generate talent and students need to have good outcomes. This is not all to do with the physical environment but it can contribute to it. Students' health and wellbeing is very important and we all know from the pandemic how important that 15 minute walk away from the laptop has been to re-charge, so the design of landscape around student centres is something to think about.


'As far as comparison between the UK and other countries on developing a good apprenticeship education, I would mention that in Switzerland, nurseries are placed in science centres and these kids grow up in the context of science, it makes it all so much more transparent. I think the British though have the upper edge on vocational education compared to Germany where the universities are much more organised into siloes. That's why I have been attracted to work with the British, there is more outreach and a brokering of different aspirations. With bringing universities and business together it sparked something new in Southampton. The idea was to bring talent from London down to the South including family relocation and has given a momentum for other external stakeholders. It has brought different institutions together and the UK is using this collaboration to remain at the forefront of international competition with China and Japan.'

Grimshaw was appointed by the University of Southampton in 2009 to develop a long-term master plan for its 10-acre Boldrewood site. The brief was to deliver state-of-the-art buildings and facilities that would place the university at the forefront of engineering excellence, broaden collaborations with other leading institutions and business and cement Southampton as the UK's home of maritime research. Over the subsequent ten years, six individual building projects have been delivered to create the Boldrewood Innovation Campus, a world-leading hub for innovation , business and education.

The flexibility of spaces and potential for their adaptive future use is one of a number of ways the campus was designed to achieve a high standard of sustainability. To promote energy efficiency, solar gain is minimised through approximate solar shading and a glazing system that manages thermal gain, daylight and glare through a combination of natural and automating ventilation. The campus is powered via infrastructure that connects the buildings to a combined heat and power district heating main. The central green quadrant of the campus is the external focal point, while the entrances to all buildings face a sloping lawn in the centre of the open space. The landscape design takes into consideration views out from all workstations with pedestrian links between buildings.

Image below - Boldrewood Innovation Campus at the University of Southampton (Grimshaw)


Recent Posts
bottom of page