John McAslan & Partners has given professionals from all parts of the health economy a serene and elegant place to collaborate at Lancaster University
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
Architect John McAslan & Partners
Structural and services engineer WYG
Project manager Identity consult
Planning consultant SDA Consulting
Curtain walling Metal Technology
GRC panels Telling Norskreen
Rooflight Lareine Engineering
Acoustic rafts Ecophon
Timber panels UK Acoustic Systems
Ceramic flooring Solus Ceramics
Carpet tiles Forbo Flooring