Why master planning is more than just architecture

29 February 2024

A life sciences campus is like a jigsaw, and it takes all the disciplines to put it together, says Liz Sparrow, Sector Lead for Science and Research.

As an architect, I specialise in developing and delivering strategic master plans for science and research facilities – and that’s why I know that architecture on its own is not enough. A campus master plan is like a jigsaw, especially when you’re trying to create a new picture with some of the pieces already in place. A multidisciplinary approach is essential, right from the outset. Here are just three reasons why:

  1. Because clients need flexibility

A 20 or 30-year master plan is a framework that we co-create with a client, rather than impose on them. The master plan sets out a broad vision, but it needs to be able to flex as their needs inevitably change over time. Achieving that balance requires very early involvement from all the disciplines: architecture, engineering, sustainability, landscaping, planning, project management, cost consultancy etc, in conjunction with clients (landlords, tenants and users). It’s really important to get that exchange of ideas before you start to fix everything down – the longer you take to involve the right people, the more opportunities you miss.

  1. To be future-proof, it has to be detailed

Many conceptual master plans never realise their full potential because they hit so many reality checks along the way, whether that’s evolving environmental legislation, changing work patterns or cost constraints. To derisk a project, it needs to have a robust technical grounding. It will be underpinned by the unseen energy matrix that is the building services master plan. Then there’s the landscape master plan that considers aspects like future climate change, flooding and biodiversity net gain and overlaying that is the architectural master plan. All these layers interact, so shaping them needs to be a collaboration, where everyone works together with the client, rather than working in isolation. This is particularly important when the goal is to reach Net Zero emissions: to do that, you must have all those brains together at the beginning.

  1. It takes a lot of minds to create a community

On a campus master plan, the community vision is often just as important as the architecture, and that means including in-between “bump” spaces or shared amenities that draw people together to collaborate and exchange ideas. On recent projects, we’ve found that a successful strategy is to fix some of the non-technical areas early on, to create a “heart” around which the campus can grow. This shared space needs to be just as appealing as people’s own dedicated areas, designed for the whole range of personalities who may work on a campus, no matter how they like to socialise or how much stimulation they enjoy. So, success hinges on the involvement of disciplines like building services, acoustics, lighting, technology and landscaping, because all of those aspects, and many more, are crucial to creating environments that are comfortable for neurodiverse individuals, for example.

In order to co-create high-quality, unconstrained spaces that inspire the free exchange of ideas in the scientific community, a master planning process must mirror the same principles. Getting the right balance of technical and social space requires the right experts to come together as early as possible in the process – and that can only happen with a truly multidisciplinary approach.

Liz Sparrow is an Architecture Partner at Ridge and leads the Science and Research sector.

She joins a panel at The Life Sciences and Innovation Real Estate Annual Conference on Wednesday 6 March to talk about: Shaping Environments: strategies for collaboration and campus excellence – enhance your Life Science offering by strengthening cross collaboration.