In July 2021, the Rosalind Franklin Laboratory opened in Royal Leamington Spa as one of the largest diagnostic testing facilities in the world. The 225,000 sq ft facility for processing PCR test results is a key part of the UK Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Incorporating nine separate lab lines capable of processing thousands of tests a day.
Housed in a former industrial unit, this megalab was delivered in record time. We led the design and helped to compress the facility’s NEC4 programme from a typical two and half years to less than 12 months.
The project was born out of necessity due to the pandemic, but with an eye on the future role diagnostics will play in medicine. The prime aim was to ensure this project for the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) was delivered to a world-class standard, while minimising its carbon footprint, and maximising speed and certainty of delivery.
In addition to acting as principal designer, our specialist teams provided a wide variety of services, ranging from lab design and specialist building services, to planning and BIM Co-ordination.
As well as delivering at pace, the design brief for an ultrahigh output lab set out a number of challenges. This included the incorporation of new diagnostic processes at the same time as creating the infrastructure to provide a safe, sustainable and productive space for those who would work at the facility, whilst the workforce was being formed.
From the outset we sought to make use of offsite construction techniques and worked with Mace and HOK to develop innovative design solutions to support the fast-track delivery of the ultrahigh-throughput laboratory. Early engagement of the tier 1 contractor Balfour Beatty (BB) and their supply chain was crucial to ensure that the design was buildable at pace.
The key to successful delivery was the open and collaborative framework within the cross company multidisciplinary team, enabled by technologies such as BIM360 and Aconex. This meant that everybody was working in the same model and collaborative space. The rhythm of communication was established to keep shortest lines of cascade and decision making. This led to very early design freeze from which the supply chain could be engaged and construction could begin.
Instead of following the usual linear project management process through design, procurement and construction, we had to manage these processes simultaneously. This included capturing the client brief, sketching concepts, freezing design, coordinating services and speaking to contractors and the supply chain.
Effective communication across the project team helped to maintain the ultra-fast delivery pace. We held twice-daily project meetings, and all team members signed up to a collaborative working charter. A design authority that was chaired by the client team was held twice a week. It was this set up that secured the client sign off and earliest possible design freeze. This, along with the use of digital project management platforms, helped to embed a culture of collaboration.
By redeveloping an existing building, we anticipate the carbon footprint of the project would be less than typical construction methods and demonstrated to the wider industry that complex buildings can reuse existing structures. By successfully ultra-fast-tracking project Jupiter, we have helped to bring forward all the benefits a facility of this type offers to public health.
At only a few months old, the Rosalind Franklin laboratory is already at the heart of the UKHSA’s plans for managing the country’s coronavirus response. In October 2021, the facility processed its one millionth PCR test - less than 12 weeks after validation of the first lab line. There are plans for the laboratory to rapidly detect known COVID-19 mutations and confirm known variants and identify any new mutations, further aiding the UK’s response to the pandemic.