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An MEP focused project with the potential to change the world of animal based research practice.
The University of Edinburgh was in danger of losing its research funding as their facilities were aging and falling foul of Home Office code compliance. The plan was to redevelop the site with a new building. BuroHappold was engaged to collaborate with the architect to design the lab’s MEP systems.
The brief addressed three core requirements:
- The facility to become Home Office compliant so as not to endanger research funding.
- Improve the environment for technicians – the current lab atmosphere can carry airborne allergens.
- Create a laboratory that can be a benchmark in the industry for scientific quality.
We wanted to challenge pre-existing Home Office guidelines in a way that allowed us to interpret their recommendations with a much tighter focus on the way the future facilities perform – specifically looking at the demands of air load ventilation & the usage of LED lighting.
To do this we would have to explore the complexities of the system design. Our team used leading edge BIM environmental modelling to produce the intricate solutions that would drive air load demands down.
Have an explore of the interactive model below.
It highlights our multi discipline approach to solving the problem.
By digging deeper into the client’s research practices we were able to question whether it was possible to enclose the live specimen housings, rather than using the open cages.
- We investigated creating covered housings with individual micro-climates. These could be uniquely controlled for ventilation and heating.
- This would isolate the general room atmosphere on a separate system, making the air safer for technicians.
- In turn, this gives better control over the specimens themselves, in restraining any spread of disease and limiting the risk from one strain of rat or mouse to another.
Analysing the lighting systems and use, we discovered that a hugely expensive system was being used – costly in three ways:
- Lamps were dimmed to just 2% of their capacity costing unnecessary energy expense
- As a result, the lamps would blow frequently,
- The maintenance cost in replacing lamps weekly was a hidden time consumer.
Key Engineering Moves
By designing a system of specimen housing, independently ventilated and heated, the research could achieve much more rigorous and consistent testing results. The additional benefit would mean less cost for specimens as the isolation controls help to prevent losing a whole batch to contagion.
A better working environment
The independent systems meant technicians would be less exposed to allergens and disease.
The concept to replace the specimen lighting system with a new low energy LED system would be a much more economic solution with less maintenance.
Setting a new standard
The individual specimen micro-climate environments, and new lighting methods combine to set new benchmarks and will directly impact the new Home Office Guidelines. However, the researchers were sceptical that the specimens would respond well to this untried type of lighting.
This is when we had our Eureka moment…
By not accepting the norm as verbatim practice, we were able to challenge the industry standard methods and deliver outcomes that go way beyond the briefing requirements.
Our engineering actions had a massive potential impact for this entire industry of live specimen testing, with more humane conditions for the animals.
Our client is a research facility so what better way to work this out if the LED lighting method has any impact on the specimens than by conducting lab tests with them?
We embarked with them on testing the response from a control of lab rats and mice to see if their circadian rhythms were disturbed.
The result was that the specimens were not negatively affected at all.
This gave us the green light to set about designing the unique specimen micro-climate environments and the layout of the dense MEP network of electrical, plumbing, ventilation and lighting.
We not only delivered a solution that answers the brief, such as removing the risk of defunding, but one that improves the daily practice and safety for technicians and also reduces operational costs.