Regular readers will have noticed the astonishing (even if we say so ourselves) variety of impressive North West-based projects we’ve been able to review over the past year or so. We’ve looked at major financial blue chips, leading telecommunications companies, housing associations, public sector innovators and co-working facilities. Here, however, we might just have added something not only unique to the North West to our list, but something unique full stop.
Technology and innovation lie at the heart of The Bright Building – an amazing new facility, which provides a tech-hub for both Greater Manchester and the Northern region as a whole.
Conceived as a place where discovery and adoption of innovation and open collaboration is nurtured, The Bright Building is the first phase of a wider BDP masterplan for Manchester Science Park (MSP).
The Bright Building acts as the hub for the entire MSP campus community of over 150 businesses and the wider city centre innovation district. The majority of the building’s ground floor is given over to an expansive, flexible open space for up to 200 people to gather, with meeting rooms, breakout spaces, a café and shared outdoor areas to help bring people and businesses together.
Having made our way out of the vibrancy of Manchester city centre, and despite the rather typical seasonal weather, we’re both surprised and delighted to find a whole new vibrancy out here at MSP. We meet up with BDP Architect Designer Mike Hitchmough and Tom Renn, Managing Director, Manchester Science Partnerships, who are happy to give us a tour of the facility. ‘We’re hitting the lunchtime rush right now – which is a nice time in a way,’ Tom begins. ‘We’re now seeing all the customers of MSP – some 2,000 people, working across 10 buildings. The design of this building was all about bringing that community together into one place – so rather than having pockets of community in different buildings, and customers or tenants of each building staying within their own smaller community, the idea here was to create an active heart for the park.
‘We have a lot of companies here at MSP who have spun out of academia – and this is a great facility for them to be able to continue to interact with the community.’
‘This was actually two commissions for us,’ Mike tells us. ‘The first commission was the base build – which was literally the shell and core. We didn’t do anything with upstairs because the sort of tenants that Tom is getting in are not looking for a traditional office fit-out.
‘So we designed a bare shell that kept the wind and rain out – which is extremely handy on a day like today!
‘People can then come in here and use this space as a hub. A lot of the work is research-based or lab-based, so a typical office fit-out wouldn’t necessarily work for them.
‘Tom and the team then commissioned a separate piece of work for the fit-out of the ground floor space. The entire building is around 70,000 sq ft. Including Cisco’s own space here, we’ve probably got about 10,000 sq ft of space that a typical developer would immediately want to shrink down. There is pretty much an open-door policy here – we needed this space to be given across to anyone who wants to come in here and use it, have a coffee etc. Obviously, the tenants here – such as Cisco – use the facility, but it is also very much open for anyone within the science park.’
‘It was designed to Cat A with an exposed ceiling,’ Tom continues. ‘So we weren’t going to put in grid ceilings – we always wanted to expose the concrete and if tenants then come in here and want to put in a grid ceiling for their own lab space, for example, they can do that – it works really well for that. Flexibility is absolutely key to the space.
‘We have an Innovation Centre here, which we run in partnership with Cisco, and which is designed to help scale small businesses. The main street space, which runs throughout the building, features our shared operating office and also the R&D Centre for Cisco in the North. We run Innovate UK’s national ‘Internet of Things’ demonstrator project here – so we engage with a lot of tech SME’s and a number of life science companies.
‘We are a little way out of the city centre, so it was vital that we brought the right amenities to the site – so as well as the food and drink provision, we have a gym studio, for example. After all, what is it we’re offering here? An innovation campus where you can work with over 150 like-minded businesses, in close proximity to the University and the largest NHS hospital trust in the country – but we also needed that really good café offering and gym studio.’
The clear span, pre-cast concrete frame solution enabled MSP to offer tenants clear, open space with no internal finishes, so that tenants had the maximum flexibility on their fit-out.
The building is designed around this central open spine that is open to the public – a key aspect of the wider masterplan – and facilitates connectivity between the University and the Science Park. The natural flow and energy of people through and around the building is harnessed within the vibrant ground floor hub where, as Mike informs us, ‘We have used the often-overlooked metric of three dimensional volume to create an unfolding series of diverse spaces, using objects, furniture and lighting to create both formal and informal settings, bright places, dark spaces, open and cosy, inside or outside, where people can connect on whatever level they choose’.
The ground floor’s central open space – the real beating heart of the facility – is designed to accommodate a range of functions. In its ‘everyday’ mode, it is furnished with tables and benches where people can enjoy food and drink throughout the day, provided by Friska – a caterer whose ethos is focused upon how food makes you ‘feel’. Very Scandinavian and very cool!
Mike tells us that Tom and the team spent a great deal of time deliberating over the right partners for the building. ‘It was incredibly important – because it’s so important for them to get the right people visiting the building. The food here is first-class, by the way,’ he enthuses.
Lacquered plywood terraces provide informal places to sit, lounge and work. Tom tells us that, with the tables and benches removed, these platforms and seating either side create a natural performance space. Filled with seating, the central space becomes a 200-seat conference space with the raised platform as the stage area.
Fantastic elevated black meeting rooms cling to the exposed concrete soffit and emphasise the generous height of the ground floor. ‘Each has a deliberately different orientation, offering inward and outward looking views and different room proportions to offer a variety of meeting configurations and settings,’ Mike explains. ‘The additional booth-style spaces below are deliberately tight and intimate – in contrast to the lofty central space.’
An important aspect of the openness and accessibility of
the building was to establish seamless connectivity between inside and outside. The external landscape concept was developed around the notion of creating external rooms where – weather depending – people can work, meet, and play as easily outside the building as they can inside. To this end, the landscape incorporates, power, data, lighting and ground sockets to accept temporary structures for a range of shelters. Of course, we do have to bear in mind that this is Manchester, so perfect alfresco dining and working will always be slightly limited. On a fine day, however, this will certainly add a whole new dimension to the facilities here.
Users have access to latest telepresence technology, enabling them to work with anyone, anywhere in the world. The building is a living lab for new technology development and deployment, with a particular focus on smart cities, Internet of Things and digital health. It is a building that celebrates and uses technology and physical space to allow people to connect both digitally and physically.