In the countryside of Surrey, England, a new containment facility for the Pirbright Institute is revolutionizing the way people work with viral diseases affecting animal health.
The bunker-like, box-in-box approach has
been the standard template for containment
design for decades because it just works. But
is it truly the most efficient and effective way to
conduct research? Does it offer a workplace
that inspires its researchers and scientists to do
better work? Does it foster the level of collaboration that today’s leading research institutions
are pushing for? Does it help attract and retain
the most talented researchers?
Designed by HDR, the 151,000-square-foot Pirbright Institute’s BBSRC
National Virology Centre Plowright Building flips the standard containment
layout inside out, placing labs around the perimeter of the building and
putting people in the center.
“At the earliest design meetings, a seemingly simple question, ‘What
about windows?’ coalesced the project team’s ambition to realize a new
vision for containment,” said Dr. Michael Johnson, head of estates and SRO
Development Programme for the Pirbright Institute.
“Why not build the best containment facility in the world?” he asked.
“This facility would usher in a new model of containment in which researchers
would have natural light, views, interaction with others outside their group,
and a cafeteria—all within the containment barrier.”
Material and product selection played an important role in breaking out of the
typical, containment-model box and giving the facility a more inviting aesthetic.
Transparency and daylight—along with lively design details like a helical stair-
case off the atrium and splashes of color throughout the interior—combine
to create a sense of informality and well-being in a facility where potentially
life-threatening research work is being conducted. The use of wood timber
paneling, multi-colored window casings, transparent glass panels, and a metal
brise soleil help to brand the Plowright Building as a new, vibrant place to work.
Inside, the atrium offers a feeling of spaciousness, while the labs are clinical, but
with pockets of color. The creative architecture expresses its function through
exuberant details that reveal the technologies and construction of containment.
Based on careful responses to assessed risk, the design also satisfies
security and containment requirements for high-consequence animal disease
research within a highly interactive environment. The design ushers in a new
paradigm for Category 4 bio-containment, in which researchers work in labs
and offices with large windows and expansive views, gather in an open light-
filled atrium, and eat in the cafeteria within the containment boundary. A radical
departure from traditional bunker-like Category 4 containment facilities, this
new model is safer, enhances research productivity, and is exponentially
more comfortable and pleasant for researchers and staff.
Through an in-depth understanding of the facility’s user groups and
their preferred and optimal work processes, HDR successfully developed
a new approach to containment that resulted in a safe, collaborative, and
light-filled work environment—a place where people want to be. From outside,
it is clear that this is a revolutionary facility—not a conventional, sterile
60 interiors+sources april2016 interiorsandsources.com
By Robert Nieminen | Photography courtesy of HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2014 James Brittain
TOP The timber
cladding by LSC
Facade gives the
exterior an inviting
feel, while contain-
ment windows by
Structura UK Limited
take advantage of the
beautiful views into
the adjacent woods.
RIGHT Standing in the
middle of the atrium, a
visitor sees a fantastic
magenta and yellow—
by Structural Stairways
Limited, with polished
stainless steel handrail and
support cable rods, and a
BASF resin floor finish.
Shared, unassigned write-up space is located
on the first floor, within the containment barrier,
and offers views through the atrium to other
floors. Computers and monitors are permanently
fixed to the “touch-down” spaces to avoid cross
HDR’s design of a virology center
in Surrey, England, flips the
containment model inside out.