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26 June 2005

Queen Mary College, Institute of Cell and Molecular Science, London

Queen Mary College's Institute of Cell and Molecular Science building is a new centre of medical research excellence.
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Queen Mary College’s Institute of Cell and Molecular Science building is a new centre of medical research excellence.

Totalling over 9,000m² of space, it houses some 3,000m² of bio-medical (category 2 and 3) research laboratories with full support services, write-up offices, and a 400-seat lecture theatre. The landmark building sets a high standard for the college to attract quality staff, and for the further regeneration of the Whitechapel area.


Unusually for its type, it is open and clear about its purpose; and provides a common identity and functionality to the research disciplines whilst allowing the flexibility necessary to accommodate their changing needs over time.

The selectively transparent envelope permits activities to be seen whilst maintaining the sense of (and actual) visual security required.

The interior breaks from traditional lab designs in a number of ways. The intention was to facilitate better scientific research and discovery through collaboration and shared resources. As a result, the laboratory space is all contained on a single floor plate that occupies the entire site some six-metres below ground level – roughly the size of a football pitch!


Another innovative concept is the presence of the spectacular suspended pods within the large glass pavilion that is home to the write-up office space. Made of glass fibre and tensioned fabric over steel skeletons they appear as a family of objects floating freely within the large airy volume – like plants in an aquarium.

One, the ‘Centre of the Cell’, is to be fitted out as an interactive exhibition for school children to learn about science and health in an interesting and meaningful way. The second ‘Mushroom’ pod serves as a central meeting space and circulation hub for the middle of the building. Here, people can view the ‘fish tank of surprises’.

The two southernmost pods ‘Cloud’ and ‘Spiky’ encompass meeting and seminar spaces. They provide a striking backdrop to an otherwise normal office environment, and help make ‘Monday morning feel like a Saturday!’


Colour is extensive and vivid throughout the building; super-size artwork is baked onto the surface of the glass cladding (depicting abstract images on a medical theme); a fuchsia-pink and tomato-red glass bridge links one side of the building to another; the interior of the 400-seat lecture theatre is a striking green, and the cafe and reception area a bright orange.

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