Institute of Genetics and Cancer

Systems Medicine Building

A Brief Description of the Project and New Building: May 2013

The project principally involves the construction of a new five-storey building at the Western General Hospital site, Edinburgh; providing 2,908m² of space for the Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine (IGMM) at the University of Edinburgh. The proposed structure will physically link on the eastern edge of the site the 3 main buildings of the IGMM: the MRC Human Genetics Unit, The Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine and the Edinburgh Cancer Research UK Centre. It will also provide a lecture theatre, social spaces, offices and meeting rooms, plus informatics, statistical and computational science laboratories. To complement the new facility, some areas of the present buildings will be refurbished to provide new or improved facilities for the Institute, such as a bio store. The project is targeting a rating of “Excellent” in terms of BREEAM.

The appointed Design Team comprises: Oberlanders Architects, providing Architectural and Design Team leadership; Goodson Associates, giving structural engineering design services; KJ Tait, for the mechanical and electrical engineering design services. KJ Tait is also fulfilling the BREEAM Assessor role. Cost advice is being provided by the Sweet Group.

The project is being funded through a £3.5m award provided from a partnership of the Wellcome Trust and the Wolfson Foundation (known as the Wellcome-Wolfson Capital Awards in Biomedical Science) and an MRC grant to the value of £3.3m. The University of Edinburgh is providing the remainder of the project cost of £10.2m.


The key design aims of the project include:

  • Improving staff communication within the Institute by providing a central gathering space;
  • Creating unified access through and between each of the buildings to help maximise collaboration and interaction between staff;
  • Providing flexibility for future expansion of the building;
  • Providing internal scope for possible future changes in layout and/or servicing installations to meet the needs of evolving research practices.

The form of the new building is essentially single aspect, positioned on the east side of a new spine corridor, with an ‘elevated’ glazed facade facing east onto Crewe Road South. The alignment of the façade is curved, made up of a series of ‘flat’ faceted panels, and is intended to strike a balance between the alignment of the existing building grids and the angle of Crewe Road South.

The curved glazed façade extends along the entire east frontage of the building and will terminate between two solid ‘core’ elements at the north and south end of the building. These blocks will contain tertiary accommodation including escape stairs, server rooms and toilet cores. The blocks will be finished in brick masonry, to complement the surrounding buildings.

The curved façade is almost entirely glazed, with silver anodised finishes and this allows opportunities to reflect the surrounding landscape features, notably the mature woodland of Fettes College opposite. The façade is accentuated vertically with projecting ‘fins’ on each mullion, horizontal glass to glass joints and vertical striped manifestation to assist with glare control. The façade glazing will be specified to achieve a high standard of solar, glare and thermal control.

The new building comprises five levels:

Level 1 

Comprises a unified entrance foyer and reception area for all the linked buildings along with a raked 180 seat lecture theatre. There is also a central Estates hub for management of the combined buildings.

Level 2 

Comprises a social interaction hub with café servery. This provides an overspill area for the lecture theatre with audio visual connection facilities. This also links directly to the MRC HGU building.

Levels 3 and 4 

Comprise research “dry lab” spaces with raised access floors, arranged along the eastern façade. A server room on Level 3 serves the dry lab spaces. There are secondary meeting/break-out spaces and other tertiary space including toilets/showers around a central atrium. New link bridges to the MMC and ECRC buildings are at both levels. The MRC HGU also links directly at these levels.

Level 5 

Comprises a shell space for later fit out, with an external roof terrace on the east façade with views over the City. There is a further link connection to the MMC building. An extension to the existing HGU plant room at this level contains plant serving all the buildings via the new link building.

These levels are all connected vertically by a core atrium space passing through the circulation spaces with natural lighting via a roof cupola. A passenger lift connects all the levels, along with two sets of stairs.


A number of steps will be taken during the construction process to reduce environmental impacts, by use of innovative construction management techniques. Social or economically sustainable measures achieved/piloted are also listed below. There have been several key aspects of sustainable and environmental design applied to the development.  The main building façade has large sections of glass curtain walling to maximise natural daylight and create an appealing working environment.  The orientation of the building has been carefully considered so that the main façade is not exposed to high levels of solar gain from the south.  This was further improved with the addition of external vertical fins acting as Brise soleil.  The building benefits from a central atrium linking the large reception and foyer to the upper circulation areas with dedicated break-out spaces.  This central atrium is naturally ventilated by automatically controlled vents at ground level and in the large roof light above the atrium.

The passive design measures are further supplemented by low energy building services.  An intelligent lighting control system will be installed throughout the building with automatic occupancy detection and daylight linking to maximise the use of natural daylight in applicable areas and control the use of artificial lighting in areas when unoccupied.  LED luminaries have been specified where suitable to provide a low energy light source.  Air source heat pumps will be installed as a low carbon heating source to provide the majority of the heating load for the building.  A sub-metering strategy for all main components and systems in the building has been specified to allow the University of Edinburgh to remotely monitor the energy consumption of the building and allow accurate energy management of the building.

Reduction of environmental impacts

  • Contractors will be required to follow a Construction Site Waste Management policy set out in contract preliminaries
  • Contractors will be required to responsibly source materials
  • Contractors will be required to be registered under the Considerate Constructors scheme.
  • The landscape planting scheme will follow principles for a “Physic Garden” and comprise indigenous species
  • Cycle parking storage and changing facilities to encourage staff to commute by bicycle

Key innovative and low-impact design features of the building are:

  • Air handling units will use full heat recovery and no primary heat source will be required
  • A fully integrated sustainable drainage system of treating and attenuating the surface water will provide hydraulic betterment to the existing system and the public sewer
  • Exposed concrete slab soffits for thermal mass
  • High thermal insulation
  • Façade engineering to maximize daylight but control solar gain
  • Air tightness

Some key project related information:

  • Basic Building Cost - £2,630/m2
  • Services Costs  - £730/m
  • External Works  - £125/m2
  • Gross floor area - 2908 m²
  • Total area of site - 0.49 ha
  • Area of storage (m2) - none within new build area
  • % area of grounds to be used by community (where relevant) – none
  • % area of buildings to be used by community (where relevant) – none
  • Predicted electricity consumption -138 kWh/m2
  • Predicted fossil fuel consumption - 148 kWh/m2
  • Predicted renewable energy generation - kWh/m2 - zero
  • Predicted water use -4.7m3/person/year
  • % predicted water use to be provided by rainwater or greywater - zero