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'Science Cities' - sustainable place-making across the globe

Above: Future Cities Forum invited (from left) Flic Hayward, Project Director, Scott Brownrigg, Tim Fry, Head of Science Sector Strategy (UKIMEA), Arup, Rob McGill, Sustainable Design Leader, HOK, Simon Payne, Director, Lambsquay Consulting of Cambridge, and Owen Reading, Urban Designer, David Lock Associates to debate best practice around sustainable design and place-making in over-heating science cities. The panel was moderated by Heather Fearfield of Future Cities Forum.

What is best practice for sustainable design and place-making in over-heating science cities? This was the subject of our final panel discussion at our Newnham College, Cambridge forum, which looked at sustainable science and social infrastructure development across the globe - in the cities of Manchester, Glasgow, Boston, New York, Munich, Heidelberg as well as Cambridge.

Above: Arup provided comprehensive strategies for Northeastern University’s new Boston Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex (ISEC). This LEED Gold-certified, 234,000ft2 facility includes a variety of laboratories and other research support spaces intended to promote collaboration and innovation across the fields of computer science, basic sciences, health sciences, and engineering (Courtesy Arup)

Arup - represented Tim Fry for this panel discussion - has been working on successful science masterplans around the world. As an emerging science innovation city, Manchester has demanded the best engineers to create sustainable science labs and districts that are climate aware and onto which social infrastructure can be designed.

In July, a milestone was reached for ID Manchester – a £1.7bn city centre innovation district set to transform The University of Manchester’s (the University) North Campus. The launch of the draft Strategic Regeneration Framework (SRF) and formal public consultation period is breathing new life into a site steeped in a history of innovative scientific advancements.

ID Manchester is a joint venture between the University and Bruntwood SciTech, and the new district’s site has been made available due to the transition of the University’s engineering and material science departments into the new Manchester Engineering Campus Development, a project engineered by Arup, with a design team that included many of the University’s graduates. The ID Manchester SRF details the scale, ambition and opportunities that the innovation district will bring to the city and its local residents, businesses and stakeholders including the creation of over 10,000 new jobs within a diverse and inclusive community of innovators.

Alongside the University and Bruntwood SciTech, the ID Manchester masterplan has been designed in collaboration with a world class design team including Allies and Morrison, SLA, Stanhope, Deloitte, Arup, Stephen Levrant Heritage Architecture, Useful Projects, Ekosgen and Arcadis. Arup has previously worked on the former UMIST Campus as structural engineers including on the Renold Building, the Maths and Social Sciences Building and Ferranti Building.

In collaboration with the design team, Arup pioneered an approach for the assessment of heritage assets within the site regeneration, taking a holistic approach to carbon impact and advising whether buildings could be repurposed to a different use-class, extended whilst maintaining their historic character, or whether new build was recommended. The success of this assessment has led to the approach becoming embedded more widely across Arup’s work on other regeneration schemes.

Along with involvement in the ID Manchester masterplan, Arup also recently entered into an equity deal with Concretene developer Nationwide Engineering Research & Development (NERD) and international graphene supplier Black Swan Graphene. Concretene – an innovative technology designed to decarbonise the construction sector – is a graphene-enhanced admixture for concrete that has demonstrated the ability to reduce CO2 emissions significantly.


Tim Fry commented:

'We are working on life sciences across the globe, we have a long track record in the US and Boston as well as New York where we are seeing big challenges. This is in terms of floor print, air systems, ceiling heights etc and there is no holding back on the engineering aspects to tackle sustainability. There is no holding back now on engineering in certain states as they are driving towards reducing energy in their science buildings. This is something that has been new in the (United) States especially in New York - how to reduce energy demands. We are working over there to create sustainable labs and create structures in the buildings that are adaptable, so they can be tightened up later.

'In Europe we are working with the Max Planck Institute outside Munich on a site that was built in the 1960's and producing a new masterplan. It is a re-envisioning to attract new staff and talent. It is a very expensive place to live, and we are linking in with the existing infrastructure. Like here in Cambridge, there will be a new station. It is called a village but is really a suburb which needs connecting transport back into the city. Our new social masterplan will give longevity to the place.'

Above: Manchester was one city that the Bennett Institute studied

Creating better social infrastructure

A new report has been published by the University of Cambridge's Bennett Institute for Public Policy, which compares Germany with the UK on levels of social infrastructure. It sees east Germany as in a far better place for this important type of infrastructure than many cities in England. It states:

'Researchers matched eleven parts of England such as Manchester and Peterborough with German areas close in population and productivity, primarily in the former Soviet bloc – as this region was a central case study in the UK government’s flagship 2022 ‘Levelling up’ White Paper.

'The report, led by the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge, found that in 2021, German towns, cities and regions have on average twice as many hospitals and pharmacies per 100,000 people as their English counterparts.  

'Places in Germany have over 11 times more mental health centres and practitioners, and eight times more further education providers, than equivalent parts of England, according to 2021 data.*

'In 2020, German areas also have twice as many railway stations per 100,000 people as matching English areas, although England averages almost four times more bus stops than Germany.

“Access to physical and social infrastructure across England is highly variable, and shortfalls in provision affect both declining and growing areas,” said report co-author Professor Diane Coyle from Cambridge University’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy.

“But even England’s wealthier areas are falling short of equivalent places in Germany, and have seen notable declines in a wide range of types of infrastructure over much of the last decade.”

Even in wealthier cities such as Cambridge (above) social infrastructure investment is falling

The report shows that areas such as Cambridge and Manchester have more healthcare facilities per 100,000 people, for example – as well as more banks, museums and restaurants – compared to areas such as Bolton, Rochdale and Stevenage.

In fact, Cambridge, one of the country’s wealthiest locations outside of London, has over twice as many banks and building societies, on average, and over six times as many further education providers, as Oldham, Central Bedfordshire and Rochdale.  

However, the team also found that many elements of “social infrastructure” right across all eleven English areas have tumbled since 2014, regardless of regional wealth and average rates of income.

The availability of public transport, GP practices, hospitals, mental health care, police stations, banks, cash machines, post offices, primary and further education facilities, theatres, swimming pools, museums, shopping centres, and chemists have declined across almost all English areas analysed in the report.

All local authorities analysed in the report reduced at least one type of health service between 2014 and 2023. For example, Blackpool, Central Bedfordshire, Stevenage and Stoke-on-Trent all decreased their number of clinics, GP practices, hospitals, and dental treatment centres.

Even in Cambridge the number of further education facilities per 100,000 people halved between 2014 and 2023, and GP practices per capita fell by over 14%.  


The researchers point out that even rapidly expanding places in England are seeing social infrastructure go in the opposite direction – an impediment to desperately needed house-building. 

For example, Bedford sits in the ‘Ox-Cam-Arc’ – an economic boom region encompassing Oxford, Cambridge and London – and is growing at three times the national rate, expanding by nearly 18% between 2011 and 2021.

Yet the town has seen local services weaken, with reductions per capita in everything from bus stops and rail facilities to GP capacity, primary schools, and local banks and cashpoints, since 2014.

The report calls for “provision presumptions”: thresholds at which existing services cannot be reduced. Coyle, Erker and their co-author Prof Andy Westwood from the University of Manchester argue that a minimum UBI level should be tied to an area’s population growth.

Above: Halle an Der Saale, included in the Bennett Institute study, was part of the former East Germany but received large investment into infrastructure following the re-unification (Image courtesy Halle an Der Saale Tourism)

Simon Payne, Director of Lambsquay Consulting, joined the debate to comment on the report. Simon was Director of Environment at Cambridge City Council for eleven years and has been a planning consultant for the last seven, living and working both in the UK and east Germany with business connections in Heidelberg.

He stated:

'I think it is a very good report by the Bennett Institute, looking at the need for a universal basic infrastructure and shows that we need to plan for the longer view and connect everything up. The Germans do it better. In Heidelberg, they have a Mayor elected for eight years who also deals with the federal state as well. It is a much simpler system. The Bennett report looks at several German cities and their community provision and they outperform us in nearly all cities, with facilities such as GP practices. But we need to state a slight word of caution here - there has been a huge amount of investment after the unification of Germany in the east. Munich also is very prosperous and similar to London, but the main lesson we need to learn from all of this is the longer-term joined up approach and that there is a social contract between people who are delivering the social infrastructure contract and the people themselves. I think people oppose development and growth here because they don't expect the social contract.

'We certainly need to get our act together in the UK. It remains to be seen what Gove has in mind for Cambridge and if we get a change of government this year, what will happen. But I expect there will be significant growth with any party. When we talk about Cambridge, we are also talking about the wider area and how the railways can serve it. We have to take a broader view in the sub region. When Astra Zeneca moved from Cheshire, not all of their staff moved to Cambridge. I would love to have seen them move to Trumpington and walk to work but there are people living as far as Saffron Walden.

Above: CGi of Waterbeach, South Cambridge - image courtesy of Urban & Civic for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation

Connected communities

New communities such as Waterbeach, South Cambridgeshire, are highly desirable places to live but need to work on transport links for long term connectivity. Owen Reading, from David Lock Associates, spoke on the panel about ambitious plans around communities like Waterbeach and how they are only as good as their supporting infrastructure.

David Lock Associates has been working closely with Fletcher Priest Architects as master-planners and are part of large multi-disciplinary team including Urban & Civic as the developer.

The outline planning application coordinated and submitted up to 6,500 new homes, small medium employment space, new centres, schools, community use and leisure uses, and supporting infrastructure with a network of new green spaces including opening up a seven hectare lake for public use and recreation to form part of the site wide strategy.

Owen commented:

'I have worked on a number of sites such as Waterbeach and the Wellcome Genome Campus (at Hinxton) as well as completing the master-planning for the UK's national labs. I have also co-written the active design transport plan for England - how to design places to get physically active in.

'There is a lot around strategic growth with the planning system that we have to look at. Waterbeach is a very ambitious project where we are creating a very large new community. However, it is done better than most places in the UK but it can only be as good as the supporting infrastructure. The challenge lies in ensuring that the wider piece - which in a way is the responsibility of the developer - but it can only push so far. The infrastructure is only just starting to be delivered with the wider Cambridge partnership. Overall, we don't do infrastructure well in the UK, and there are a lot of voices that slow things down.

'David Lock Associates is based in Milton Keynes which is the UK's last new city and very successful. It is not a dormitory town but is a product of its time when we believed in the car. There is an agenda around healthy place-making and new strategic growth to take this country forward. New towns were built on the belief of a better and healthier life, but for a new city today - what does that look like in terms of healthy place-making, sustainable travel etc. We are living in an exciting time for all of this but we do need to get infrastructure right.'

Above: Astra Zeneca teaching lab in Cambridge - how are laboratories working to include female-friendly environments? (Courtesy Herzog & De Meuron)

Building for diversity

Felicity (Flic) Hayward, from architects Scott Brownrigg picked up on the points that Owen made during the debate about appropriate commutes and supporting infrastructure. Scott Brownrigg is working on developing urban labs in Cambridge and she stated:

'This whole idea of being back in town as opposed to the out of town park is an interesting one. We are working on turning the Waitrose site in the centre of Cambridge into urban labs. Companies want to have a town presence and we are very much hoping that through this project we can put science on show as a bit of social infrastructure to inspire youth and get lots of local schools to come and use the facilities. Science has been a male dominated industry and we want to encourage diversity. We are committed to giving the building another life rather than knocking it down.

'Grassroots youth involvement in the STEM subjects through Science on show to encourage curiosity and inspiring the next generation of young women is so important. So many of our lab buildings are inward facing (including the Crick), we need to flip this on its head so girls can see women working in the labs and change this perception.

'In one of our Oxford developments just going through planning we’re looking at providing ground floor lab space for the community for all the local schools to utilise. This should enable the students access to state of the art R&D laboratory facilities and gain inspiration from what’s going on around them. If this pilot scheme doesn’t work, the space can easily be given back to a tenant, rather than trying to provide this in a local school itself where they are then liable for the upkeep of the facility themselves.

'The 1980's out of town parks have been very male -orientated and dominated by car commuting but things are changing. Certainly for women the commutable distance is an issue getting to work and being on the nursery run. Infrastructure is really critical and this must come forward before new science parks are built. Road improvement is also a bit lagging.

' I think how we’re looking at sites now is totally different. At Cambridge Biomedical Campus (Phase 2) where I am currently working, we are not only designing world class buildings, but also designing world class placemaking and a campus in order to attract and retain the best talent. It is about competing on a global scale.

'We’re doing this through delivering really high BNG (loads of planting on the site rather than a sea of cars), really innovative and cool design for a sustainable transport hub at the heart of our scheme, breaking down barriers to the edges of the site to make the campus more safe, accessible and porous. I think this naturally is having a huge impact on how safe and welcoming a campus can feel for women. It is instantly softer and more inviting than the 80’s business park. I think having diverse design and client teams (I am working with some female clients with British Land over at Peterhouse Technology Park and it is a really nice / different dynamic to many of our more male dominated teams) is really helping to change the way we design.

'If you zoom in on design at a more micro scale it can ensure that we design in nursing rooms to enable mothers to come back to work, and super loos instead of toilet cubicles as they offer more privacy. Little design decisions.'


ARC, The University of Glasgow - image copyright of HOK

Designing for collaboration

Rob McGill, Head of Sustainability at HOK, joined the discussion to talk about the firm's work to create meaningful space for cross collaboration in labs:

'We were the lead designers of The Crick in London and that shows design can be all about collaboration, and we are also concerned about building sustainable labs and biodiversity, as with our work in South Cambridgeshire.

'Social value is very important and understanding the causality of design - how it can be measured and fed back into the project and influencing developers' monetary language.

'Inner city labs are forced to deal with adjacencies and all labs are incredibly hungry in terms of energy use - they are the heaviest of energy usages out there.'

HOK has taken this understanding of sustainable lab design to its ARC project at the University of Glasgow:

The HOK-designed building will serve 500 multidisciplinary researchers and is a centre-piece of the University’s new campus development.

The design addresses the University’s three specific requirements to enable interdisciplinary research, foster collaboration and communication, and support wide-ranging engagement among researchers, students, industries, policy makers and the general public. Researchers in the building come from all four of the University’s colleges: Social Sciences, Arts, Science and Engineering, and Medical/Veterinary and Life Sciences.

HOK drew inspiration for the ARC from the University’s existing campus and masterplan and Glasgow’s historic buildings. The ARC forms the west side of a new square within the expanded campus. A public route moves through the building at the entry level, connecting the new University square to the West End community. This permeable streetscape displays the internal activities of the ARC to the outside world, supporting the University’s intention to be transparent in its community.

The ARC features a large central atrium filled with natural light and includes a café and multipurpose engagement space. It includes exhibition spaces to display research, a custom-built space for immersive technologies (VR/AR) and seminar spaces.

HOK’s design specifically expresses the functions and processes within the ARC while consciously respecting the surrounding architectural character. The inviting ground floor, with exhibition areas and multipurpose spaces, will engage the public and promote the wonders of research and collaborative inquiry.

The design provides a mixture of event, social, structured and informal meeting areas in addition to flexible wet and dry lab spaces. Together, they support a range of research, engagement and collaboration activities that can evolve without significant additional expenditures or disruption.

The ARC research community includes physicists, engineers, life scientists and members of the social sciences and the arts. These research teams will work alongside each other in an open and shared environment to tackle global challenges. This marks the first time the University has attempted to co-locate such a diverse mix of interdisciplinary researchers in one facility.

To conclude the panel discussion, Brian Milnes, Deputy Leader at South Cambridgeshire District Council, said that there were lots of opportunities now for increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and the Wellcome Genome campus as an example is 'very efficient so it can be done'.

Rob McGill of HOK replied:

'We need heat recovery and mixed mode approaches on lab spaces. Often developers are not sure what the occupancy will be. These are speculative labs and the solutions will be much more nuanced with shared space if we want them to work, so little labs can come and grow. There should be a mix of diversity and circular economy.'

Join our 'Science Cities' forum at Jesus College, Oxford, in June to continue discussing these important city themes.


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