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60+ Years of Design + Innovation
12 December 2014

A Conversation With HOK’s Adrian Gainer, Regional Leader of Science + Technology in London

Adrian GainerAn expert in the science and technology field with 24 years of experience, Adrian Gainer is focused on exploring innovative solutions, adaptability, energy usage and creating effective and productive environments that inspire and facilitate scientific interaction and collaboration. Gainer chats about HOK’s current projects, the challenges and opportunities facing the sector, and his thoughts on the European Science + Technology market.

How can the design of a space influence scientific endeavors?

AG: Whilst the UK has some of the best medical research facilities in the world, competition for funding often results in research taking place in disparate and isolated teams, with little or no interaction between institutions. However, breakthroughs in science are more often the result of teamwork rather than individual genius so collaboration is vital. We are increasingly seeing clients, particularly medical research clients, prioritizing how buildings can foster collaboration between teams and research disciplines.

The Francis Crick Institute is a great example of this kind of collaboration. The Francis Crick Institute is a landmark partnership between the UK’s three largest funders of biomedical research: the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust, and three of its leading universities: UCL, Imperial College London and King’s College London. The institute will combine specialist knowledge, expertise and resources from each of these organisations.

As lead architect for the Crick project, HOK was tasked with creating a building that would not just spark opportunities for interaction, but also foster collaboration among different teams and research disciplines, many of whom have never been situated in the same building before.


The interior design of the Crick balances the need to provide formal research areas with a mix of informal breakout areas designed to draw people from different organisations together. An auditorium, exhibition area and teaching lab located adjacent the main entrance underline the Crick’s fundamental ethos of collaboration, communication and community engagement, demystifying and opening up the space to the local community and visitors.

The layout of the lab areas has been designed to be as open as possible, intentionally breaking down physical and visual barriers between different groups and scientists and encouraging contact with colleagues. Glass partitions between the lab spaces and write-up areas ensure high levels of natural light throughout the building, and invite visitors and occupants to look inside.

Other than the Francis Crick Institute, what other projects are you and your team working on at the moment?

We’re working on an exciting international project as lead architect for the Ri.MED Biomedical Research and Biotechnology Center (BRBC) near Palermo, Sicily, in Southern Italy. The $269 million world-class research facility will be a global hub for biomedical research and development. HOK’s design of the centre will create Europe’s best-functioning, highest-quality biomedical research facility. This will help the BRBC attract the most talented researchers and move to the forefront of advances in modern medicine.

HOK’s design integrates cutting edge technology with flexible, functional space in which researchers and clinicians will be able to network, interact and communicate more easily. Our design promotes communication by organising the research facility as a small, compact village integrated into the landscape with a pedestrian street at its heart connecting all of the buildings and offering spectacular views of the Tyrrhenian Sea to the north and the mountains to the south.



You’re a big advocate of adaptability in design. Why do you believe this is so important?

Over the course of a building’s lifetime, change is inevitable, both in the social, economic and physical surroundings, and in the needs and expectations of occupants. All other things being equal, a building that is more adaptable will be utilised more efficiently and stay in service longer because it can respond to changes at a lower cost. Our role as architects is to anticipate these changes.

Adaptability should be a design characteristic of all lab buildings and the designer must focus on enabling adaptation to take place. It can only take place with a conscious understanding of the demands and this requires engagement with lab managers, scientists, estate directors and facility managers to understand how the building design profession has approached this in the past, the successes and failures, and how we might look forward to providing that environment that gives us the ability to accommodate change in the future.

Read Adrian’s piece on Adaptable Labs in Lab News, August 2014

In our laboratory design work at HOK, we consider adaptability as covering three important functional requirements; flexibility, convertibility and expandability. Flexibility, in this context, is the ability for a facility to adapt to operational change such as a change in workplace practices. Convertibility is the ability to convert rooms to different functions. Expandability is the ability to expand the building envelope and specific research facility function.

What changes do you expect to see over the next 10 years?

I’m convinced that the evolution of science and technology facilities is on the verge of a dramatic shift. We’re seeing renewed public funding for science facilities in Europe and there is real appetite from within the sector to reassess the role of workplace design in supporting successful scientific research.

Design in this sector can be restricted by practicalities. Yet through projects such as The Francis Crick Institute and Ri.MED, HOK is demonstrating the potential for innovative yet practical designs that will foster collaboration and knowledge sharing between disciplines, creating untold benefits for the scientific community.

What are the design challenges facing this sector?

As collaboration becomes more important, architects will need to work with several clients and will face the challenge of bringing together the views of a large number of partner organisations. Each organisation is likely to have their own protocols and ways of doing things and therefore the challenge through design will be to reach a consensus between all of these partner organisations on the right way forward.

What do you think UK architects need to do to ensure that the UK remains a global leader in the design of groundbreaking scientific research facilities?

To retain our place as global leaders, architects need to ensure they keep abreast of global developments and must be willing to look beyond the sector, learning from and applying design initiatives and developments from other building typologies. As architects we can draw inspiration and expertise from other sectors, such as learning from the advancements in collaborative workplace arrangements being developed for commercial offices.

What is your favorite place and building?

My favorite place has to be the Bay Area of San Francisco. I lived in Palo Alto, California, for seven years and cut my teeth on lab design there. It’s a unique place with such incredible drive, enthusiasum and ingenuity all around you. Add that to a beautiful landscape and benign climate and I don’t think it can be bettered.

In terms of a favorite building. I’m going to cheat here as I have a couple. I’m a fan of Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal at JFK. I’ve always loved airports and this one in particular. It’s very evocative of flight. I spend many hours at airports and in the air as I hold a private pilot’s license. In my biased view, airports are one of the best building types!

My other favorite is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hanna House built on the Stanford University Campus in Palo Alto. It’s a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece from 1936. The unique hexagonal geometry explores open plan design and connects the house incredibly well to the landscape.

What is your favorite place in London?

There is no particular place I enjoy more than any other. I enjoy walking through the streets and stumbling across hidden gems of places such as small mews and squares. Cities have to be explored on foot and it’s the journey through these spaces and the sense of discovery that I enjoy more than the buildings.