The scheme will rehouse the School of Medicine and Dentistry for Queen Mary College, part of the University of London. It consists of three buildings set around a new public space. The centrepiece is a three-storey rectangular block clad in artwork-etched glass: inside there is a bulging orange pod and giant amorphous blobs that will contain office and educational facilities. The biggest of these will be used for public exhibitions.
The aesthetic of these five surreal structures turns the traditional idea of a clinical and humourless laboratory on its head. "We thought about the kind of thing you see under a microscope and then tried to imagine it as a workspace," says project director Christophe Egret of Alsop Architects. "We imagined cells and molecules dancing inside a viscous environment."
The building also inverts the tradition of keeping scientists away from the public in secret darkened labs. Now, with the visiting public contained within pods, it is the men in white coats who enjoy the run of the building. The basement level is a single open-plan experiment deck, naturally lit from the open ground floor above. Around this sunken area is the writing-up space, which has the capacity to hold all 400 researchers.
This main building lies alongside a public mews that will be landscaped with more bio-inspired sculpture. It is hoped that this area will kick-start the pedestrianisation of the neighbouring street at the heart of the Queen Mary campus. On the opposite side of the central mews there will be a 400-seat lecture theatre and a wall of plant buildings: the latter will be dramatically clad in multicoloured sheets that hold artworks and moving images.
Alsop Architects worked with technical designers from Amec Capital Projects on the scheme, and the Amec staff relocated to the Alsop office for the duration. "The relationship combined our design flair with their practicality," says Egret. "It was a new approach for us, but was one that we found really valuable."
client Queen Mary University of London architect Alsop Architects/Amec Capital Projects structural engineer Adams Kara Taylor building services engineer WSP Laboratories quantity surveyor Turner & Townsend