Francis Crick Institute exterior

The Francis Crick Institute

Architects:  HOK / PLP Architecture

Building Date:  2016

Address:  1 Midland Road, NW1 1AT

Nearest Tube: King’s Cross St Pancras (Circle, Hammersmith and City, Metropolitan, Northern and Victoria lines)

The Francis Crick Institute is a biomedical discovery institute dedicated to understanding the fundamental biology underlying health and illness. The  work of the Institute is helping to understand why disease develops and to translate this into new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, strokes, infections, and neurodegenerative diseases.

The idea for the Crick was born from the need to update facilities at two major research institutes – the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) and the London Research Institute (LRI) – research institutes of the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Cancer Research UK (CRUK) respectively. It was decided that they should be combined and located in central London to take advantage of the cluster of hospitals, research organisations and transport links, and to create a new hub of research that would be greater than the sum of its parts. The NIMR and LRI merged into the Crick in April 2015. Most of the scientists at the Crick come from these legacy institutes, and they have been joined by new recruits and by research groups from the Crick’s three university partners (UCL, Imperial College London and King’s College London). The Wellcome Institute is also a founding partner.

Architectural Statement

“The design intent was to develop an overall architectural concept that promotes interdisciplinary work and encourages collaboration between scientists and researchers, while creating a brand new civic landmark of notable architectural expression in King’s Cross. HOK and PLP Architecture worked in close collaboration with the client and other stakeholders to deliver a design that externally responds to the area’s architectural heritage and historic context, while internally, fostering interaction between different scientific disciplines.

HOK was appointed architect and lead designer following an international competition in 2008 and was responsible for the overall design concept, which emphasises openness, collaborative teamwork and innovative laboratory planning. HOK carried these concepts through into the interior design and external landscaping. PLP was appointed in 2010 to collaborate with HOK. Its role included shaping the building into a civic landmark through its distinctive form and its striking architectural expression.

The design for the proposed development evolved in response to extensive public consultation undertaken with local communities, community groups, Camden planning department, the GLA and CABE. Planning approval was secured in December 2010. Construction of the shell commenced in June 2011 and was completed in autumn 2013. Consultation was held at all stages with a construction working group of residents and community groups.

Innovations include a range of sustainable design solutions that ensure the building is able to adapt to new scientific demands, such as a ‘plug-and-play’ approach to the primary laboratories that ensures the facilities can be readily adapted to future needs.” David King, HOK Technical Principal.

The site was previously called the Midland Railway Goods Yard and was the terminal for goods such as milk and fish being brought into London. It housed a banana ripening room, ice house and one of the first hydraulic lifts!. The goods yard was demolished after World War 2 and the land was  derelict until the Crick took over the site.

The shape of the Institute building is a bit like a chromosome, with four points connected in a ‘centromere’ in the middle. The layout of the lab floors in the Crick is four ‘quadrants’ of labs connected by two central atria.  There is a hub structure where the floor lab operations team (science operations administrators and quadrant managers) sit – readily accessible; scientists bump into each other when they come to see them.

Each quadrant in the building contains between 3 and 12 research groups, forming a neighbourhood. Each research group has a Group Leader, who is the senior scientist, and about 10 other members. The quadrant neighbourhoods also have shared facilities within them, causing neighbouring research groups to mix. There are also many informal breakout spaces with inviting furniture, encourage people to have meetings out in the open where they are more likely to see and mingle with others.

The building is designed to maximise views both across floors and between floors.  You can look down and see who is on the breakout space on the floor below and who is on the walkways of other floors.

The Crick  took a ‘salt and pepper’ approach to allocating lab space. That means research groups from different disciplines are located right next to each other, with no walls in between. The idea is to encourage cross-fertilisation of ideas and interdisciplinary working.

There are no walls between different research groups. That means that they can freely interact with one another, and that the space can be used flexibly in future: one research group can get a bit bigger by taking over neighbouring space from a smaller group.

Where walls are required, they are glass, so you can see who is in, and go over for a a chat.


Building facts

  • The Crick is 170 metres long from one end to the other, and just under 50 metres high.
  • It has a total floor space of 93,000 square metres, which is nearly one million square feet (that’s the size of 17.5 football fields).
  • There are four floors below ground and eight above ground (south side) / seven above ground (north side). This includes two floors of services plant in the roof and two floors of services plant in the basement.
  • The basement is 17 metres deep at the deepest point but the piles (foundations) go down another 17 metres.
  • There are 1,553 rooms (twice as many as Buckingham Palace).  25,000 sensors constantly monitor heat, light, pressure and humidity (that’s four times as many as in The Shard).
  • To maintain the right environmental conditions in the building, fresh air circulates around the building at a rate of 430 cubic metres per second – the equivalent of emptying an Olympic swimming pool’s volume of air in under 10 seconds.
  • The size of ductwork serving some of the basement rooms is large enough to drive a transit van down — sideways!
  • There are over 100 kilometres of mains power cables (equivalent to the distance from London to Southampton) and 120 kilometres of pipework (equivalent to the distance from London to Dover).
  • The labs are fitted out with over four kilometres of laboratory benching.

Construction facts

  • The Crick was at one point the biggest single building construction project in the UK.
  • During the busiest year of construction there were over 1,200 workers on site, which is almost the same number as there will be scientists in the building.
  • There was 185,000 cubic metres of soil removed from the site, which is enough to fill the Albert Hall twice.
  • 17,000 light fittings have been installed.
  • Over 9,000 tonnes of steel has been used in construction — equivalent to the weight of over 1,200 double decker buses.
  • 65,000 cubic metres of concrete has been poured.


Design facts

  • To reduce its visible mass, one-third of the structure is below ground.
  • The roof is curved to reduce the effect on local views, and the height of the building is lower on one side to reflect the buildings it faces.
  • Both the masonry and the distinctive vaulted roof recall features of the adjacent St Pancras International station.
  • The roof is arranged into two shells; a feature that is not simply decorative but conceals the heating and cooling units and incorporates solar panels.
  • The Crick have funded an eco-friendly decentralised energy scheme for the local area of Somers Town, which will provide heat to 339 homes.
  • 99% of the waste and soil removed during construction was reused or recycled, and so diverted from landfill.
  • The building has 1700 square metres of photovoltaic cells on the roof generating energy.
  • The building incorporates brown roofs (where wild flowers and plants can grow) and bat boxes to encourage wildlife.
  • There is no car parking for staff other than disabled spaces — but there are 180 bike racks for staff, plus more outside for visitors.
  • Extensive use of glass in the design allows natural light to flood into the building, and all light fittings are energy-efficient.

At the West end of the building on the ground floor is the Living Centre, which is a dedicated space for the local community run by local partners.  The St Pancras and Somers Town ward, where the Crick is located, is among the most deprived 25% of neighbourhoods in London. The Living Centre is the first new community space to be built in Somers Town for more than 15 years. The centre aims to support the health and wellbeing of people living locally. A range of services will be developed with residents to complement successful services already on offer in the area.

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