Francis Crick Institute

Years in the making and extraordinary in scope and purpose, HOK and PLP Architecture design the UK’s largest and most significant biomedical research center. Photography by Paul Grundy and Nick Guttridge.

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Vast in both size and ambition, the cathedral-like Francis Crick Institute is Europe’s single largest and most innovative biomedical research facility. Located in central London’s King’s Cross neighborhood, the institute was established by six leading medical research and educational organizations. Here, researchers from across the institutions work together in interdisciplinary teams with no departments, no tenure, and a broad openness to shared knowledge and research.

Named after the late scientist Francis Crick, who played a crucial role in research that led to the discovery of the structure of DNA, the institute is a partnership between the UK’s three largest funders of biomedical research—the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, and the Wellcome Trust—and three universities: University College London, Imperial College London, and King’s College London. This is a research center for biologists, chemists, physicists, engineers, computer scientists, and mathematicians.

HOK began work on the highly complex building in 2008, while PLP Architecture joined the design team in 2010 to refine the exterior envelope and guide the planning process. HOK was responsible for the project’s overall design concept, interior design, and lab planning, as well as landscape architecture.

From the outside, the building’s steel, glass, and terracotta-clad facade echoes its surroundings, which include the red brick St Pancras station to the southeast. Two vaulted roof shells fitted with solar panels curve petal-like over its top. At 560 feet long and 165 feet high, with nearly one million square feet of floor space, the building is impressive in scale. Five floors rise above ground while two are below grade, helping to reduce the building’s visible mass within its urban location.

The institute’s imposing form is divided by two intersecting atria that create sightlines between all floors. A large white rounded structure forms the building’s auditorium at the base of the atrium. “We have these organic forms that function like organs within a skeletal structure,” says Andy Warner Lacey, a vice president at HOK who led the interiors team. “It’s an anthropomorphic approach to design.”

No barriers to discovery

Designed to encourage connection, ad hoc conversation, and interaction among the more than 1,500 multidisciplinary staff, the building was conceived around the tenets of transparency and flexibility. “‘Discovery without boundaries’ is our tagline,” says Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Crick Institute, “so we did not want any physical barriers between our 120 labs. It’s all about open-plan, collaborative working and direct sightlines in an environment that I hope will encourage a sort of gentle anarchy.”

Large cantilevered bay windows and tall glass atria reduce the building’s impact at street level while funneling natural light into workspaces and public areas. An open stair at the junction of the two atria twists its way upward through the informal social spaces of each floor—a layout that encourages serendipitous encounters.

In contrast to the building’s neutral lab environments, HOK filled the strategically located collaboration spaces with splashes of bright color and rich natural materials that foster creative thought. Writable white walls are peppered throughout the building to define areas for documenting spontaneous discussions. Meanwhile, nearby quiet zones cater to more private conversations.

While amenities such as the auditorium, restaurant, and public teaching spaces are located on the ground floor, labs are on the floors above in four quadrants, or neighborhoods. Each lab neighborhood has a linear glass-walled layout that allows staff in the atrium to see through to the other side of the building. In between, a shared secondary lab is sandwiched by two write-up spaces and primary labs on either side. “There is a feeling of openness,” says HOK Senior Vice President David King, who was the project director. “You can see through from one side of the building to the other. Daylight penetrates deep into the plan.”

The visual permeability works both ways—the public can readily look in to see activities inside the building. “You don’t feel cut off from the street here,” says King. “People can look in and clearly see what you’re doing.”

Thanks to a completely flexible system of utilities and modular casework from Herman Miller and Spanish brand Flores Valles, researchers can quickly and easily adapt their laboratory environment as their research needs change. Labs that require highly controlled conditions are on the lower level floors, where more than 25,000 sensors monitor heat, light, pressure, and humidity.

“Our fantastic new building is proving to be a great success,” says David Roblin, chief operating officer and director of scientific translation at the Crick Institute. “Culture change seldom happens overnight, so I’m impressed by how quickly people have adapted to new ways of working, sharing space and ideas. Great scientific discoveries are now emerging from this wonderful new laboratory.”

who Architect and interior designer: HOK with PLP Architecture. HOK project team: Andy Warner Lacey; Beate Mellwig; Sarah Miller; Stephanie Blandford. Contractor: Laing O’Rourke. Project manager: Arup. Cost consultants: Turner & Townsend. MEP: Arup. Structural engineer: Adams Kara Taylor. Lighting: Porkorny Lichtarchitektur. Kitchen: Foodesco. Landscape: HOK. Graphics: HOK. Acoustician: Cole Jarman. IT/AV: Cordless Consultants. Planning submission: PLP Architects. Code/fire protection: HCD. Environment: URS (Aecom). Building maintenance: REEF. Cladding consultant: Emmer Pfenninger Partner AG. Security: Horus. Fire: Exova Warrington Fire. Furniture: Phusei.
what Paint: Dulux. Laminate: Formica; Perstorp Warerite; Abet Walls. Drywall: Dulux; Sika. Wall and corner protection: Acrovyn. Masonry walls: Dulux. Movable walls: Skyfold. Flooring Hard flooring: Dulux. Resilient flooring: Altro; Polyflor. Carpet/carpet tile: Interface. Ceramic tiles: Domus; Grestec; Johnson. Limestone: Crema Luna; Perigord. Sandstone: Marshalls. Timber endblock: Naturally Wood Floors. Terrazzo: Quiligotti. Ceilings: SAS. Recessed lighting: Zumtobel; ERCO. Track lighting: Zumbtobel; ERCO. Fluorescent/industrial: Whitecroft; Fagerhult; ERCO. Pendants/ chandeliers: Occhio; Glashutte. Hardware: Allgoods. Doors: Leaderflush Shapland; Ingersoll Rand; Ascot Doors. Architectural glass/glazing: OAG. Decorative glass panels/partitions: Optima. Window treatments: Copaco. Workstation/task seating: Herman Miller. Conference seating: Brunner. Lounge/reception seating: Florence Knoll; Modus; BOSS; Allsteel; Haven; Vitra; Carl Hansen; Zeitraum; Interstuhl. Cafeteria/dining seating: Alias. Auditorium seating: Figueras. Other seating: Davison Highley; Moroso; Brunner; Allermuir; James Burleigh; Walter Knoll; Blastation Frovi; Moooi; Hitch Mylius. Upholstery: Kvadrat; Hallingdal; Maharam. Conference tables: Brunner. Boardroom table: Flourish. Cafeteria/dining tables: Brunner; Modus. Training tables: Bulo; NaughtOne. Reception desk: Ruddy Joinery. Side tables: Swedese. Other tables: Allermuir; Muuto. Lab benches: Flores Valles. Lockers/cubbies: Simply Lockers. Closet systems: Thrislington. Drawers/casegoods: Ruddy Joinery. Architectural/custom woodworking: Ruddy Joinery. Signage: D Line X Sign. Plumbing fixtures/fittings: Ideal Standard; Armitage Shanks; Geberit; Lovair; Dyson. Textile treatments/finishes: Premier Finishes.

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