A very large building site

Last week I went on a short tour of the Francis Crick Institute construction site. The Crick is a new research institute due to open in 2015, and will be formed out of two existing institutes in London plus three University partners.  The tours are available for staff at the two constituent institutes so that we can get an idea of the project’s progress and get some feeling for the new building. It is still early days but it is starting to look more like a building and less like a hole in the ground (thus far 375,000 tonnes of soil have been removed, so it was a big hole). The scale of construction is impressive.  The Wellcome Trust’s Gibbs Building is just down the road from the site of the Crick and is where the project is currently based.  The Gibbs is a large building but the Crick will be twice the length and twice the width of that building. The Crick is apparently the largest single-site construction underway in London, and also one of the most complex.

As we were shown round the site and told about the project I noted that construction is beset by the same problems as science when it comes to specialist jargon. I didn’t know what a “berm” was, nor the meaning of “rebar”, and the details of pilings and mole holes left me confused.  But the enthusiasm and pride shown by our guides left me in no doubt that this is a very special project.

Some images taken at different stages of construction are on the Crick website and the latest Crick newsletter has more construction news and views of what the labs will look like.

It struck me that each stage of the project is an enormous undertaking – first you must dig an enormous hole, then build an enormous building, then fit it out with a complex range of equipment.  And meanwhile, you have to design the organisation that is going to go into the building – this is a parallel project in its own right. On top of all that, you have to tell the world what is going on. That means telling the local community what is coming to their doorstep, telling the scientific world what the Crick’s plans are, telling people in the two component institutes what is going on, and telling the wider world how things are progressing. Actually, you have to do more than just ‘tell’ you need to ‘engage’ as well. That is harder to do, but I think it is starting to happen.

One brilliant example of such engagement at community level is a project the Crick did with a local school during science week earlier this year. They have published a short video about the project and I think it is the loveliest film about kids and science I have seen for a long time.

The Crick is going to feature large in my working life for the next few years, so I will probably return to this topic from time to time.

About Frank Norman

I am a retired librarian. I spent 40 years working in biomedical research libraries.
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7 Responses to A very large building site

  1. rpg says:

    Awesome stuff, Frank. We had a peek the other week when we were up that way a week or two back.

    I notice all those images on the site to which you linked are captioned “Archaeologists finish exploring the site”. I don’t think those words mean what they think they mean.

  2. Frank Norman says:

    Oops! I think that is the good old “copy and paste” again. It can be a perilous short-cut.

  3. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    I remember the fun of watching a new 15 storey research centre being built… they knocked down the car park that used to be on that site, right next to our lab, a couple of weeks after I started my postdoc, and we were all quite enthralled as we spent the next 3 years watching them build the new facility (after they stopped messing out in the foundations, where we couldn’t see them, anyway – this phase seemed to take AGES). We finally moved into the new building a few months before I left the lab, so I had a good few weeks enjoying the mountain view from our 13th floor lab! A couple of years later I was back, but on the 4th floor and devoid of any view. It was still nice to be in a purpose-built research facility though, rather than a converted bakery, which was where we used to be (the yeast spores in that building were NOT good for tissue culture).

  4. Frank says:

    Cath – Yes, “messing out the foundations” does seem to take quite a while. All buildings seem to start by digging enormous holes. I was impressed when our guide pointed to a humongous pile of earth and said it would be cleared by next week.

    This building will not actually be that high – there are four underground floors but I think only three or four above ground level.

  5. John Gilbey says:

    Sounds amazing! Can’t wait to get a tour of the finished product…

    Your excitment ran away with you though: “…existing institutes in London plus there University partners…”.

    Isn’t it “their”…? Yellow card, Frank… 🙂

  6. Frank says:

    Thanks John. Sorry for the error – must do better! But it should actually have said “three”, so it was genuine finger slippage rather rather than a heinous spilling error. Now corrected.

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