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John McAslan’s health innovation campus lets stakeholders collaborate in peace

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Words:
Ged Couser

John McAslan & Partners has given professionals from all parts of the health economy a serene and elegant place to collaborate at Lancaster University

The Health Innovation One (HIO) building at Lancaster University is all about fostering collaboration. That hasn’t started yet, thanks to the pandemic. When I visited, most of its inhabitants were delighted locals filing through the ground floor to receive their Covid-19 vaccinations, which is wholly appropriate given that building’s primary purpose is to improve preventative healthcare.
 
Designed by John McAslan & Partners, the £41 ­million HIO is a focal point where stakeholders from the wider health economy – academics, industry, health and care providers, the voluntary sector and local authorities – can come together to improve health, in line with the aims of the UK’s industrial strategy and the NHS long-term plan. It is the first piece of an 11ha health innovation campus also masterplanned by McAslan. As the university already has a well-developed campus it is expanding to the north west onto a greenfield site surrounded by open countryside. 
 
The pavilion-like HIO relates very successfully to its gently undulating landscape setting. Straddling a storey-height step in the terrain, it is a five-storey block of reception, social and teaching spaces set into the earth bank, so that it appears embedded into its site. 
  • Facades are composed of concrete panels interspersed with perforated anodised aluminium ventilation panels. ‘The warm hues and natural tones of the materials play well with the changing quality of light throughout the day and the seasons, discretely animating the facades’, suggests the architect.
    Facades are composed of concrete panels interspersed with perforated anodised aluminium ventilation panels. ‘The warm hues and natural tones of the materials play well with the changing quality of light throughout the day and the seasons, discretely animating the facades’, suggests the architect. Credit: Hufton+Crow
  • The massing of the 8000m² building is intended to reduce its visual impact on the landscape.
    The massing of the 8000m² building is intended to reduce its visual impact on the landscape. Credit: Hufton+Crow
  • Credit: Hufton+Crow
  • Facades are composed of concrete panels interspersed with perforated anodised aluminium ventilation panels. ‘The warm hues and natural tones of the materials play well with the changing quality of light throughout the day and the seasons, discretely animating the facades’, suggests the architect.
    Facades are composed of concrete panels interspersed with perforated anodised aluminium ventilation panels. ‘The warm hues and natural tones of the materials play well with the changing quality of light throughout the day and the seasons, discretely animating the facades’, suggests the architect. Credit: Hufton+Crow
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Two fingers of office and teaching space extend north and south, with the larger – a four-storey block – on lower ground. Along with a stepped section, this move minimises HIO’s visual impact, which was particularly important because of a listed building on a nearby hill. 
 
The L-shaped plan embraces a mature oak tree next to the main entrance, surrounded by hard landscaping. McAslan’s landscape architect has embedded the building in the terrain with a planting strategy aimed at biodiversity, but there are missed opportunities on the building itself.  At first-floor level there is an expanse of flat roof that would have been perfect for planting, or perhaps even made an accessible terrace offering spectacular views of the landscape.
 
Facades are composed with a very restricted palette of materials including white concrete and bronze anodised aluminium panels. With machine-cut patterns derived from tree foliage they are effective in helping the building to fit into its context. Where the perforated panels are placed over glazing for shade, the patterns of light streaming through and playing on the white surfaces within are very beautiful.
 
A colonnade along the main elevation helps to establish a collegiate or even civic quality, and leads the visitor from the car park at the north end of the building to the main entrance in the glazed north facade of the five-storey block. Inside, a café and lecture theatre have views of woods and hills to the east. To the right, within a multi-functional teaching space, is a ‘Hellerup’ stair – a broad timber flight doubling as auditorium seating – which is duplicated in concrete on the earth bank that rises on the other side of the curtain wall
  • Timber-lined meeting areas align the top-lit principal circulation route.
    Timber-lined meeting areas align the top-lit principal circulation route. Credit: Hufton+Crow
  • Filigree aluminium panelling drawn over the curtain-walled facade to the main reception area is intended to create a sense of ceremony on arrival.
    Filigree aluminium panelling drawn over the curtain-walled facade to the main reception area is intended to create a sense of ceremony on arrival. Credit: Hufton+Crow
  • Timber-lined meeting areas align the top-lit principal circulation route.
    Timber-lined meeting areas align the top-lit principal circulation route. Credit: Hufton+Crow
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As well as teaching space, offices and shared workspaces, the building has various meeting rooms and event spaces designed to promote collaboration, including a dedicated innovation lab and business lounge. The distribution of these spaces throughout the building should be effective in encouraging interactions and lending a sense of life.  While promoting integrated working, HIO is also the new home for Lancaster University’s medical school and division of health research, so has state-of-the-art teaching facilities, including a simulated hospital ward within a clinical skills centre, and a well-equipped anatomy suite. 

The plan is simple and elegant, with the circulation radiating from a central triple-height space. The workspaces are all enclosed from the general circulation, which is probably a consequence of the number and variety of independent groups and organisations using the building, but it does create a relatively introverted atmosphere. There are also a large number of single-person offices, notably on the third floor, where they are arranged on a long double-loaded corridor. These are difficult to get away from in the healthcare sector, largely due to cultural traditions of space ownership, and are always a challenge to deal with as a large number of small rooms is generally circulation-hungry. At HOI, however, the social and collaboration spaces threaded throughout the plan more than compensate for that. 

On the first and second floors the main wing is split into three sections, with workspaces and meeting rooms on the east side and open plan collaboration spaces on the west, separated by a full-height void with bridges linking across. It’s a neat and readily understandable organisation reminiscent of Hodder & Partners’ Stirling Prize-winning Salford University Centenary Building. The small timber-lined meeting spaces aligning the central corridor are particularly successful; their floor-to-ceiling glazing gives incredible views out. 

Throughout, the interior spaces are considered and elegant. The restricted approach to materiality evidenced in the envelope continues within, where exposed precast concrete soffits and slatted oak wall panelling are the order of the day, working particularly well with the bronze anodised aluminium visible through the windows. Double- and triple-height spaces accommodating the various breakout, flexible teaching and cafeteria spaces all have fabulous landscape views, although perhaps more could have been done to physically connect those spaces to the outside.

The building is BREEAM Excellent, as you might expect, given its focus on health and wellbeing. It’s mostly naturally ventilated, with perforated anodised panels facing up very well-crafted ventilators. In fact, it’s a very well-made building all round, and the simplicity and elegance of its construction has a calming effect. An abundance of daylight helps too; long strips of roof glazing provide fantastic top light to the social and circulation spaces.

As pandemic restrictions mean that the building is not yet operating as planned, understanding how it might work in practice requires some speculation. But the quality of HIO’s spaces and fine landscaped setting were self-evident, and I have every confidence that a collaborative, innovative approach to healthcare teaching, research and delivery will thrive in the building, which is a triumph. 

Ged Couser leads the architect profession group in BDP’s Manchester studio

 

Credits

Architect John McAslan & Partners
Structural and services engineer WYG
Project manager Identity consult
Planning consultant SDA Consulting

 

Suppliers

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Rooflight Lareine Engineering
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