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Investing in the UK's science and tech cities

1000 Discovery Drive, a flexible office and labs building on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus - by Scott Brownrigg for Countryside & Liberty Property Trust

Oxford University Development's Chief Executive, Anna Strongman, Professor Lynette Ryals, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Cranfield University and Chief Executive of MK:U, and Ed Hayden, Director at architects Scott Brownrigg took part in our 'Science Cities' forum in Cambridge recently. They debated the issues around developing built environments for R&D and university communities that are flexible, responsive to the human need for collaboration while being ecologically sustainable and aesthetically outstanding.

Scott Brownrigg has recently been working on a new building for Phase 2 of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, and architect director Ed Hayden said:

'To tackle both climate change and sustainable science cities, we need to create walkable and liveable communities, where there is space for work and play. Collaboration is key, so we must not create institutionalised science but work from the ground up. Where you take your family as well as where you work will be important in the future. The Crick was a catalyst for the King's Cross development in London and we need to return - for the OxCam Arc - to that same principle and make it better. It isn't just what it looks like but what makes a great place, functioning 24 hours a day.

Ed commented on how the pandemic has changed approaches to design:

'In the past - in the use of buildings - we were getting denser an denser and this goes against principles of fresh air and space, so now we have to reverse that, if we don't want to create pandemic after pandemic. Also the adoption of 5G means you can work almost anywhere, so science campuses and parks need facilities where people can enjoy themselves as well as work. These buildings need two parts, the external (meeting) space and internal place to work in the office or lab. Roof balconies are now seen as positive thigs to put into the design make buildings attractive, whereas a decade ago that would have been seen rentable space.

'Having the ground plane of the building which is active is very important. Since the pandemic, people are most concerned about how they arrive into buildings and the experience of how their day goes in a healthy environment.'

For the new 1000 Discovery Drive building on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, Scott Brownrigg was briefed to design for multi-occupancy, combining lab and office spaces across five storeys, for tenants involved in life sciences R&D who may need offices and wet or dry labs in combination. The simple building form complements the complex services strategy and the facade has been been designed to respond to changing requirements.

CGI of proposed new university at Milton Keynes, MK:U designed by Hopkins Architects

Professor Lynette Ryals, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Cranfield University, spoke at our forum about the design of the new MK:U campus and how this would fit into the ideals of the education that she was planning to provide, matching the needs of the Arc.

Hopkins Architects is delivering the new university buildings, designed as an open quarter with 'the forum' as a centrepiece. It contains a drum-shaped lecture theatre within the glass entrance lobby, which is welcoming to students and the public. The new university will focus on digital economy skills, new technologies including AI, robotics and cyber security and is a partnership between Milton Keynes Council and Cranfield University. It benefits from being on the last major undeveloped site in the city centre, mixing university facilities with public spaces.

Lynette explained her approach to the new MK:U campus:

'I think of it holistically and we mustn't forget about housing and places, but with providing education around digital and new technologies with students who will feed the vacancies of businesses in the Arc, we are designing the university buildings from scratch and they must express the curriculum. This applies to all our physical and virtual spaces, so we have 'learning rooms' where the academics are in the middle and the students around them working on practical projects.

'This is because I have been consulting nationally and internationally with business and overall companies want people who are flexible, able to work in teams, talk to clients and who have emotional intelligence. Part of the Arc is about the deployment of tech, but although the UK is good at coming up with ideas, we need to focus on the applications to real world problems.'

Oxford University is working in partnership with Legal and General in developing seven sites on university land for housing, offices and laboratories. Anna Strongman, Chief Executive of Oxford University Development, who joined our forum discussion in Cambridge, commented:

'I am concerned to develop high quality for the University and returns for L&G. I developed Kings Cross for Argent, so I know we can drive value over time. In theory it's a virtuous circle. I am developing seven sites within and around the city and talking with seven different communities. The National Planning Framework is critical to support this. How we consult is important and also how deliver the design quality. There should be high quality amenities in such a dynamic science city which is so important for the region.

'There is an affordability of housing issue in Oxford and the city centre has its challenges. That said, the city council is trying to grasp that challenge and bring development forward. I am working with acres of land North of Oxford and at Osney Mead (on 44 acres of industrial estate land) - where there is the opportunity to harness the energy there in the city that perhaps is not manifesting itself at the moment. I think sometimes the pace could improve, it can be a little slow at times, but let's build a dream and it will all happen.'

'Science Cities' at Newnham Cambridge: Panel discussion on creating the best places for R&D with (from left) Matt Smith of BioMed Realty, Professor Lynette Ryals of Cranfield University / MK:U, Laurel Powers-Freeling of Cambridge University Health Partners, Heather Fearfield of Future Cities Forum, Ed Hayden of Scott Brownrigg and Dr Martin Dougherty of Wellcome Genome Campus and Wellcome Sanger Institute


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