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Innovation Centres

Leighton Cooksey



Leighton leads the delivery of major projects across the sports/leisure, workplace and higher education sectors and sits on our digital design and IT management groups. He has more than 20 years’ experience in project delivery and particular expertise in sustainable buildings, including BREEAM excellent projects. Leighton has been heavily involved in the development of our BIM policies and methodology, including systems to ensure compliance with ISO19650 (the UK government’s specification for level 2 BIM), software template files and object libraries, and internal staff training.

The Core Science Central Innovation Centre Breakout Space L

We design innovation centres that cultivate thriving entrepreneurial ecosystems, driving growth in their local and regional economies.

Over more than a decade, our buildings have fostered the growth of strong communities of collaborating businesses, coming together to provide mutual support and benefiting from the collective culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.

In many cases, the relationship between the innovation centre and a host university has been pivotal. At the most basic level this supports the ‘spin-out’ and commercialisation of intellectual property from within the university. But also, the university provides a centre of regional expertise to help to grow pockets of innovation within mature businesses and ‘spin-in’ new start-ups.

As our design thinking has evolved, we have identified a number of essential factors that contribute to the success of this building type.

An innovation centre should provide an outward facing identity for fledgling businesses to strengthen their presence and stature in the wider business world.

This identity should reflect the values and ambition of the type of business which it intends to nurture.

The Core - British Council for Offices (BCO) Northern Region - Commercial Workplace of the Year 2016

The Core is a landmark building in the heart of Newcastle’s Helix science and technology quarter that provides serviced incubator space to companies working within the broad sector of sustainability. Vital to the design approach was the creation of an exemplar for the future development of the site, and an embodiment of the principal theme of sustainability and future cities.

One of the most striking features of the building is a seven storey, 27m high living wall – at the time one of the tallest of its type in the country. The living wall attracts and supports local wildlife and biodiversity, a theme which sits well with the sustainability agendas of the tenant businesses.

At our InfoLab21 innovation centre for Lancaster University the bold form and striking prepatinated copper cladding project a strong, vivid identity, elevating the stature of the individual tenant businesses. Alongside the incubator spaces are offices for 250 research academics from two top ranking university departments, Computing Systems and Communications Systems. Copper as a material also projects the gravitas and collegiate feel required for a prestigious building on this site, making reference to the roots of the university in the copper roofed buildings of Lancaster City.

Lancaster University Infolab 21 Innovation Centre External View L
InfoLab21 - British Council for Offices (BCO) - Corporate Office Building of the Year 2005

The quality of an innovation centre’s ‘collaborative heart’ space is vitally important to provide an impressive venue to host events, encourage networking and act as the core space for the innovation community.

The role of innovation centres as regional hubs for events, networking and training is becoming increasingly important. They form a natural home for such activities and over time we’ve seen the emergence of ‘forum’ spaces as a critical component of the successful innovation environment.

Menai Science Park is the first dedicated science park in Wales with a focus on the low carbon energy, ICT and environmental sectors. The first landmark facility situated at the heart of the campus provides co-working space with offices, laboratories and workshops for a range of new and established businesses. The spectacular ‘open innovation space’ at the building’s entrance has created a thriving community culture of entrepreneurial collaboration, through a publically accessible programme of events, talks and workshops. A folding white ribbon of Corian frames the inspiring backdrop of the Snowdonia mountain range located a few miles to the south east.

The open innovation space at Menai Science Park was conceived as an innovation battery supplying the tenant businesses in the linked workspaces

Flexibility is essential, providing low-cost tenancy spaces which can expand or contract at the same rate as the tenant business.

To allow for the growth of new start-up and university spin-out businesses, The Core’s concrete frame has been designed on a 6m grid in order to maximise flexibility. Research and benchmarking established that incubators based on units of 18m² were an optimal size. A range of incubator sizes based upon 3m wide by 6m deep modules provides the flexibility for expansion; the flat slab insitu concrete frame allowing the repositioning of partitions and services with minimal disruption.

Similarly, at Menai Science Park the individual tenancy spaces have been designed around the concept of a ‘universal science building’, one that can adapt and respond to a wide range of work settings, using a carefully arranged building grid and servicing strategy.

Menai Science Park Innovation Centre Laboratory And Workspaces L
Laboratory and workshop spaces set out on a flexible structural grid. A spine over the central corridor delivers essential services, whilst external risers deliver additional ventilation and piped services to support more intensive laboratory activities

A strong overlap is emerging between the nature of innovation centre workspaces and the requirements of individuals fuelling the growth in ‘co-working’ office spaces.

Here, independent workers are able to connect, support each other, and thrive in a communal workplace setting. Whilst many innovation centres offer virtual tenancies—allowing use of the building’s address without the need for a permanent residency—in the next five years we will see development of the ‘open innovation forum’ concept to explore opportunities for co-working to expand the outreach of the innovation community.

Meanwhile, our research and innovation in the fields of ‘active design’ and ‘design for health and wellbeing’ will continue to inform our approach to the building typology to ensure that our workplaces are much more than just a place to work.

Leighton Cooksey