The landscape of bio-medical research in the UK is changing. The growth of digitisation, workforce agility and a push towards a more collaborative and inter-disciplinary approach, requires a re-think of how design should nurture the growth of this sector. AKT II director Rob Partridge, who led the structural and civil engineering design on the Francis Crick Institute, talks on the importance of providing the UK’s life sciences market with the fabric and infrastructure it so desperately requires.
The growth of life sciences
Over the last 20 years there has been tremendous growth of the life science industry worldwide driven by demographic shifts and continuing advances in bio-medical research and production. The UK boasts an impressive history of scientific discoveries but has traditionally lacked the ‘translational’ infrastructure to turn research into business, thus losing our intelligence overseas and resulting in missed economic opportunities. To correct this, the sector has been seen as a key growth area by the UK government, and continues to attract cross-party support and funding.
This move to translational research is coupled with a trend towards the urbanisation of science. Science parks traditionally provided the UK’s home of research, driven by urban planning ideologies of the latter half of the 20th century. Partnerships between government and large pharmaceutical companies provided clusters which tended to be characterised with an inward-looking and protective environment. However, at the same time, cities have been forming ‘knowledge clusters’; eco-systems of academia, research and incubation woven into the urban fabric of our cities. These innovation districts are continuing to expand, and new ones are forming, increasing the pull of life science into an integrated urban environment; and exemplified by the building of the Francis Crick Institute in King's Cross which opened in 2016.