Brainy drain at historic lab

As a birthplace of modern molecular biology, where the sequencing of DNA is among many techniques pioneered, a new building for the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge required special planning – and not just for the 27,000m2 of fully air-conditioned space designed to house 440 scientists.

Nearly 50 years on, the LMB needed major refurbishment, and after several years’ planning a new home designed by RMJM architects is now being built by principal contractor BAM Construction. Completion is due in 2012, the entire project costing over £200 million, part paid for from royalties derived from the LMB’s antibody-related work.

Innovation has not been limited to the superstructure, consisting of two laboratory blocks joined by a central atrium in a shape reminiscent of a chromosome. Even the stormwater attenuation required considerable thinking to create a solution to the site’s unique characteristics, where no surface water can run off at all.

Drainage on the site is generally shallow, as it runs into soakaways at points around it. So the system had to be installed at a very little depth and still provide the required storage, without using additional pumps. This prevented the use of any plastic systems because of their lack of strength, and also concrete, whose thick wall construction would have affected gradients. However, steel constructed Tubosider systems drastically reduce the wall thickness.

For the LMB, Tubosider was therefore approved at an early stage, sending an initial design to BAM Construction for confirmation, then detailed drawings and quotations to subcontractor AD Bly Construction’s surveyor Dave Boden.

In terms of installation, Tubosider pipes are also considerably lighter than concrete, and easily manoeuvred by a 360 excavator or crane once on site, say AD Bly. The stillages of pipes where well stacked, and supported for transport. A larger machine was required to off load the pipework, which is no different in size to its equivalent plastic pipe.

AD Bly found Tubosider’s service notably better than most suppliers, with everything from design to delivery sent through quickly and complete.

When it opens, the new building will continue LMB’s unique work to understand biological processes at molecular level with the aim of using this knowledge to tackle specific problems in human health and disease. To date that work has attracted nine Nobel prizes shared amongst 13 LMB scientists, so this may now set the stage for more.