June 1, 2020
The recent completion of several Nightingale hospitals across the UK has shown both the significant challenges and successes of such rapid large-scale developments. Images on social media went viral as we watched the extraordinary conversion of the ExCel Exhibition Centre in London to a 4000-bed hospital spanning 20 acres in just nine days.
We owe a massive debt of gratitude to the teams of NHS staff, builders and soldiers drafted in to assist with the physical construction activities but let us also spare a thought for the architects and engineers at BDP who worked around the clock under great pressure to prepare the designs.
Key to the success of the project was the adoption of Modern Methods of Construction (MMCs), an initiative designed to drag the construction sector into the modern age by using modern materials, technologies and manufacturing processes to drive efficiencies and improve quality.
One example was the mass manufacture of component systems in a factory off-site, which were assembled on-site to create uniform patient bays as quickly as possible.
History has shown us that in times of adversity – when cost is no longer the limiting factor – we see great innovations, from computers and jet engines through to blood banks and full scale production of penicillin. Now I cannot declare that the COVID-19 pandemic will change the construction sector forever but it has given a glimpse of what is possible when financial barriers are removed and new technologies are allowed to flourish.
With construction sites across the UK interrupted by temporary closures, re-opening processes and subsequent social distancing on-site regulations, it is inevitable that clients will consider new approaches in an attempt to mitigate those delays. All of which could mean the acceleration and widespread adoption of MMCs.
So what does it mean for the pharmaceutical and life sciences sector? One positive economic side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an increase in investment for biotech, pharmaceutical and other life science-related businesses. This is a time of significant growth.
Design and construction in currently underway for the UK’s first dedicated Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre (VMIC) in Oxford, which is expected to open by summer 2021 following an initial Government investment of £77 million being increased to £93 million to bring forward construction works and increase the chances of a COVID-19 vaccine being produced in record time. Newcastle’s own Helix development – originally conceived as the UK’s largest centre for life sciences outside of London – has been a great success with The Core and The Biosphere already home to some highly innovative life sciences companies, and looking like prime real estate for others in the future.
Last year also saw the opening of the National Horizons Centre, a £22 million biological research, teaching and training facility on the Teesside University campus intended to address the growth needs of emerging bio-based industries. As MMCs become commonplace within the construction industry, the time to deliver new buildings to house research labs, manufacturing plants and offices will be greatly reduced. Buildings will not only be constructed more quickly on site but also to higher standards, with greater environmental efficiencies and by using less carbon in the process.
The momentum that starts with initial investment can now be carried all the way through to the completion of a new building; the technologies now available to improve how we use and maintain these new buildings are genuinely game-changing.
The current situation with COVID-19 is unprecedented and is providing significant challenges for a number of sectors, but with
key developments in the construction and life sciences sectors, these challenges can be met with something positive.