UKPF consultant Hugh Blaza reports on something rather special in the development of lab space in Oxford.

It was an open day unlike any other last Friday.

The crystal-clear winter day seemed to have been ordered up specifically to enhance the sharp and meticulous design of architect Robin Swailes’ latest offering to the Oxford market (see gallery below). Knowing him, Robin had probably incorporated that into his design from the outset…

So, the ‘Swailes SuperLab’ is here. Tucked away just off the entrance road to Oxford’s unprepossessing Osney Mead Industrial Estate (surely to become another jewel in the city’s crown once the university rolls up its sleeves and gets to work on it), Robin and his team have created something truly unique. The building just puts a smile on your face.

‘Design comes first’ is the Swailes mantra. But, as Thames Tap readers will know, demand has surely come first in the context of providing lab space for the innovation spinout community in Oxford: there simply isn’t enough of it.

Local property agent Bidwells’ assessment is that the demand has risen sharply over the last 18 months to a record of 860,000 sq ft but with just 20,000 sq ft of space available in the city.

Offering 7,000 sq ft of purpose-built lab space, the Swailes SuperLab will certainly satisfy a part of that demand but it will do so with characteristic style and humour.

The approach to the building is via an alleyway which has been mocked up to resemble an airport landing strip, ‘Welcome to the superLab. We hope you enjoyed your flight’. Inside, the travel motif continues, using cues from the London Underground, and it is a kind of tunnel – it’s not a box in a car park.

But there the analogy ends because we don’t go underground here, the building is a post-modern curved-clad creation enveloping light, airy and stylishly fitted out space, all designed to enhance the experience of those working in it.

Fancy a snack and a coffee? Come into the Siemens’ equipped kitchen to rustle something up. Need to stretch your legs? Do a few laps of the bespoke running track which loops around the building.

Having a bad day? Press the ‘having a bad day button’ and pre-programmed audio/visual stimulation will cheer you up with a combination of sound and lighting. Breath of fresh air to contemplate your latest innovation? Step out onto the first-floor terrace to chill and take in views of the city.

Swailes is his own man. He stands out from the crowd and his new building means he will continue to do so. It will be fascinating to see who the first occupants of the SuperLab will be and what they will be innovating from their new space.

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