Selected Highlights of the Labs21 2010 Annual Conference


New European Models in Sustainable Research Space Evolution of Sustainable Laboratories at Newcastle University

Andrew Kane, Partner, FaulknerBrowns
Mike Dockery, Laboratory Safety Consultant, Managing Director, Sui Generis



Carbon emissions from the university sector in the United Kingdom have risen by 16 percent from 1990 to 2006. So in January 2010, the funding council issued a clear strategy document setting target reductions of 34 percent by 2020 and relating capital funding levels directly to performance.

Newcastle University has been at the forefront of developing innovative sustainable laboratories. Its 2002 Cancer Research Institute (FaulknerBrowns Architects) introduced open-plan, naturally ventilated write-up areas for research staff, enabling exceptional levels of spatial efficiency and flexibility. Following that, in 2004, the Devonshire Environmental Research Laboratories (Devereux Architects) became the very first BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) "excellent" laboratory in the UK.

More recently, two further projects led by FaulknerBrowns and Sui Generis have continued to raise the bar, setting new standards in flexibility, adaptability, and sustainability.

Bedson Chemistry Lab Renovation

An early Project Owners Workshop engaged a diverse range of building users from scientists to maintenance staff. This highlighted the need for exceptional levels of flexibility to enable the equipment installation to be rapidly disassembled in six years for relocation to a new science research campus being developed elsewhere in the city. In addition, the extensive use of fume hoods had to be spatially efficient and low energy.

First, the traditional approach of fixed casework and equipment was challenged in favour of an adaptable configuration. Second, a flexible configuration of research clusters was developed to enable a diversity of research programs to utilise the laboratories over the six-year period.

Plug-in fume hoods were installed with integral variable air volume controllers, and flow rates were carefully matched to each type of scientific activity and its containment requirements. Use of "aero" side cheeks and glass sides helped provide high levels of spatial efficiency with increased transparency and transfer of natural light.

The finished laboratories have helped to set new standards in modern, efficient, and adaptable spaces for teaching and research.

Baddiley-Clark Medical Sciences Centre

The site for the Baddiley-Clark Centre is located in the heart of the university medical research campus adjacent to the earlier Cancer Research Institute. Studies on the site history also indicated an interesting pattern of past use for snuff manufacture and brewing in marked contrast to the future development of laboratories for health research.

The program called for laboratories and research space to house two principle academic institutes together with a shared forum space providing café and seminar facilities for the wider postgraduate research community.

Early charrettes with the project stakeholders highlighted ten core objectives, three of which emphasised a high sustainability agenda including a target to deliver BREEAM "excellent" to 2006 levels.

Dialogue with the scientists emphasized three critical success factors: the delivery of optimum relationships between laboratory and write-up spaces, maximum support for interaction between researchers, and the provision of a high-quality environment to attract and retain the best academics.

Intensive consideration of sustainability factors helped evolve a design strategy that provides independent volumes for each of the two research institutes, thereby enabling the optimum spatial configuration and floor heights to suit their differing needs. Rather than adopt "headline" sustainability measures such as wind turbines of photovoltaics, the design instead incorporates an extensive range of embedded technologies from heat recovery to sub-metering to the use of "A-Rated" materials both internally and externally.

A consistent allocation of design resource and close management of the sustainability strategy were critical to mitigating the risk of failing to meet the targets. At each of the key design, construction, and handover stages, the focus was constantly changing to address the key sustainability issues.

At the same time, the design of the laboratories incorporated the strategy of naturally ventilated, open-plan write-up areas from the earlier Cancer Research Institute. This was evolved through a series of open terrace areas linked by a principle access stairway to enable a step-change in the integration of research teams throughout the building. At each laboratory floor level, an optimum close relationship between primary laboratory, secondary laboratory, and write-up space was maintained.

Not only does the completed building provide innovations in the laboratory workplace design, it has gone on to exceed the BREEAM "excellent" rating, achieving an overall score of 73 percent against a 70 percent threshold, still one of only three laboratories in the UK to have achieved this standard. Independent studies indicate that, on the basis of energy consumption and carbon emissions, this equates to at least Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Platinum standards.

Separate assessments of the carbon emissions also demonstrate a "B" rating for the Energy Performance Certificate, indicating a 30 percent improvement against comparable facilities.

Lessons Learned

Some clear lessons emerge from these two projects:

  • Right-sizing of major equipment such as fume hoods can make a significant contribution to the reduction of energy consumption over the lifetime of a facility.
  • Embedding flexibility and adaptability is critical for long term sustainability of use.
  • Setting clear sustainability targets from the outset, together with close management of the sustainability strategy throughout design and construction, can deliver world-class results without cost premiums.


Andrew Kane is a chartered architect practicing in the United Kingdom. Having graduated with distinction and a Master of Arts degree from the University of Sheffield, he commenced his early career with a period of research at the university focusing on computational support for design processes while also working in private practice. In the early 1990s, Mr. Kane joined FaulknerBrowns Architects in Newcastle upon Tyne; he has been a partner for the past eight years. In the late 1990s he led the design of a government pilot project to develop new forms of collaboration and procurement to improve integration between client design teams and contracting supply chains. He continues to be an active contributor to the ongoing development of collaborative working techniques and is a member of the Constructing Excellence steering group, which provides cross-industry support to help advance collaboration.

Over the last 10 years, his architectural work has focused on major research and development projects in the government and academic fields. Recent projects include a defense technology research and development headquarters in southwest England as well as several academic research and commercialization facilities for universities throughout the United Kingdom. He is also involved in master-planning the new translational research and development campus for the Health Protection Agency. As part of ongoing research he recently hosted a regional seminar, "Science Safety and Sustainability," highlighting emerging technologies to deliver the new generation of sustainable laboratory facilities.

Mike Dockery is a chartered engineer as well as a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and has been involved in the design of plant and building services engineering for more than 30 years. Since 1980, his work has had an increasing emphasis on "high-science" projects, becoming increasingly focused on research and development facilities, including all the key scientific disciplines. Also during this time, he has become increasingly involved with the wider context of building design, particularly functional layout. His project involvement ranges from conceptual engineering to site troubleshooting, commissioning, and handover activities. Mr. Dockery is committed to the ethos of multi- and inter-disciplinary design and the various techniques that improve its effectiveness. He is chairman of the British Standards Institution Laboratory Technical Committee LBI/18, leads the UK delegation to the Comité Européen de Normalisation Fume Hoods Committee, and regularly presents on laboratory design at conferences and seminars including ACHEMA 2006 and 2009 in Frankfurt and the Labs21 Annual Conferences in 2006 through 2009. Since 2007, he has been involved in a series of events and initiatives intended to formally introduce the Labs21 Approach for sustainable laboratory design to Europe. A central aspect of Mr. Dockery's work has been the challenge of "formulaic design" or "design by rote" through the consideration of innovative techniques and technologies to improve functionality and reduce costs, yet still maintain the highest levels of laboratory safety and adherence to codes.