Sep 19, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

Setting a global standard

Published in Upfront
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The BBSRC National Virology Centre: The Plowright Building, constructed and engineered by leading built environment specialist Shepherd at The Pirbright Institute in Surrey, was last month awarded the Judges’ Special Award at the prestigious British Construction Industry (BCI) Awards 2014.


Given to the building or civil engineering project of any size which the judges consider to be particularly inspirational in one or more aspects, the accolade recognises the unprecedented level of technical ingenuity that went into the build of the state-of-the-art high-security bio-containment laboratories.

Delivered on time and on budget by Shepherd, the prestigious £100m plus, 11,065m² laboratory and research facility represents an unparalleled technical accomplishment for the built environment sector.

Incredibly impressive

Funded by government via the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) Large Facilities Capital Fund, the project cements the Institute’s reputation as a world-leading centre-of-excellence in the surveillance and control of viral diseases of farm animals and viruses that spread from animals to humans.

Classified at Category Level 4 (CL4), the highest possible level of bio-containment for animal pathogens, the BCI Awards judges remarked that the “incredibly impressive” project was “an example of British planning, design, engineering and construction already attracting worldwide scientific interest”.

The pioneering new laboratories will play a vital part in driving the Government’s vision to stimulate the UK economy through science innovation and infrastructure.

Mark Perkins, CEO of Shepherd, said: “This critical project has significantly raised the bar for science and research facilities on a global scale, so we’re delighted it has been recognised with the coveted Judges’ Special Award.

“Not only will The Pirbright Institute leave a long-term legacy for the science community, the inspiring and practical spaces created by our construction and engineering teams have set an industry benchmark in the built environment.

“From the very start of this project we appreciated the importance of delivering this high value asset for the Institute to the best possible standard. Our tireless approach to this brief has enabled us to create a visionary point of reference for ground-breaking design and engineering, which underlines the science and research sector’s pivotal role in the growth of the UK’s economy through global biological advances.”.

High value asset

As one of the world’s most advanced bio-hazard containment facilities, Shepherd had to deliver an innovative solution which could meet the complex challenges of the project.

With this in mind and in order to incorporate the very best working practices, the Shepherd team undertook a global research study of leading high-containment laboratories in America, Australia, Switzerland, France, Germany, Canada and Ireland.

Given the challenges of working to such a unique design brief, combined with the need for flawless accuracy and total design compliance, project success can be largely attributed to Shepherd’s client and supply chain collaboration.

This partnership between Shepherd, The Pirbright Institute and the project supply chain, known as ‘Team Pirbright’, was not just a badge worn by all on PPE (including the supply chain) but a collective ethos and culture of mutual respect and collaboration.

This close partnership was also an integral factor in the overall success of the project and enabled Shepherd’s teams to ‘step into the scientists’ shoes.’

Key achievements of the completed project include outstanding air tightness levels 1,100 times tighter than applicable building regulations and at four times the pressure to maintain air pressure control and provide the required containment environment.

On-site research facility

In order to guarantee certainty of delivery and a zero failure approach, Shepherd built its own separate research and development facility on site before full construction commenced.

Representing a UK-first, this took the form of a full replica of a category 4 laboratory, enabling Shepherd to rigorously test the proposals prior to construction and to interrogate the design solutions through to a full cause and effect.

The purpose-built R&D facility was also used as a classroom backdrop during briefings with subcontractors to show the exact process and sequence to be followed.

Unique challenge

The team also carried out chemical and fumigant testing in an accredited independent test house on all materials and finishes to be installed within the laboratory.

And in order to ensure all components and materials used in the project delivered critical levels of performance, a bespoke programme of Factory Acceptance Testing (FAT) offsite, followed by Site Acceptance Tests (SAT) during commissioning was introduced.

In a further ground-breaking move, the Institute wanted to move away from the traditional “box in a box” approach to construction of high containment facilities.

As a result, the containment barrier was on the external wall, which set new and demanding challenges for the construction team. In achieving this, the environment for scientists has been significantly enhanced by creating a working environment full of natural light.

Dr Michael Johnson, Head of Engineering and Estates at Pirbright, commented: “Receiving the Judges’ Special Award for the BBSRC National Virology Centre represents the climax to what has been a uniquely challenging project.

Driving vision

“Not only will our new state-of-the-art facilities enable us to drive forward our vision to control and eradicate devastating virus diseases of livestock and viruses that spread from animals to humans, it will also allow for the planned future development of the Institute campus.

“The one team approach of Team Pirbright has ensured co-operation and collaboration between Shepherd and The Pirbright Institute. The legacy that all members of the team have left to the nation is a magnificent building that will be one of the world’s great centres.

“Ultimately, this will help us to continue to protect the UK economy, our food security and the welfare of animals and humans, both nationally and internationally.”

An exciting era

Professor Jackie Hunter, BBSRC Chief Executive, added: “This new world-class laboratory represents a huge achievement for UK research and UK construction, generating jobs and economic benefits while advancing science capabilities. With the construction phase complete, we are moving closer to an exciting era for UK virus research in a state-of-the-art facility.”

Congratulating Team Pirbright on its win at the annual BCI Awards, project judge Mark Hansford said the project represented the pinnacle of excellence in British construction and engineering.

Speaking at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London last month, Mr Hansford commented: “The calibre of this year’s winning projects experience leaves you in no doubt whatsoever that this is an industry that excels.

“The energy and enthusiasm shown by the project teams was incredible.

Shared passion

“Their passion for their projects, and the way entire project teams – client, architect, engineer and contractor – frequently came together as one was remarkable. Often, during visits, it was impossible to tell who was the client and who was the contractor, the engineer, the architect. The shared passion for excellence was striking.

“Across the board there are satisfied customers, revelling in buildings or infrastructure projects delivered on time, on budget, safely and with whole life costs firmly in mind.

“Special congratulations to the ultimate winners – as you are truly remarkable.”

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