Perth laboratory reimagined for phenome researchers

Tuesday, 25 February, 2020 | Supplied by: Hames Sharley


National design practice Hames Sharley has designed the Australian National Phenome Centre (ANPC), located within the research and education precinct of Perth’s Fiona Stanley Hospital (FSH). Hames Sharley had originally designed the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research at FSH, which was completed in 2013, and was invited to return to the building to reimagine an existing laboratory that would serve as home to the ANPC.

By analysing the molecular, physical and biochemical characteristics of biological tissue and fluids such as blood and urine, researchers at the ANPC aim to predict the complex genetic, environmental and lifestyle interactions causing disease and develop personalised treatments. As arguably the only centre of its kind, the ANPC positions Perth and WA as a global leader in precision medicine, enabling leaps in predicting, diagnosing and treating disease.

Hames Sharley’s design for the specialist research laboratory occupies 1400 m2 of PC2 laboratory space, office space and data visualisation facilities, and can accommodate up to 60 researchers. The laboratory is said to house the largest collection of mass spectrometers in the Southern Hemisphere, combined with several nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy instruments (NMRs) and advanced data modelling equipment. Deployed to analyse samples, these instruments emit a significant amount of heat and noise that often precludes researchers from prolonged laboratory access due to the uncomfortable conditions.

Hames Sharley Director James Edwards said the design team rose to the challenge by prototyping a laboratory furniture system for on-site testing with actual instruments, which allowed modifications and important refinements.

“The final design comprises movable benches, upon which the large and heavy instruments are located,” Edwards said. A central fixed spine of bespoke cabinetry houses electrical and gas distribution services and allows easy connection to the instruments. Additionally, the spine contains an exhaust system that extracts hot air from the instruments before it enters the lab.

Traditionally, the loud pumps associated with these instruments are positioned on the laboratory floor. “To insulate the noise, the central spine of the cabinetry incorporates acoustic enclosures for the pumps — essentially forming a barrier between the noise and the researchers,” Edwards said.

The result is that researchers have the opportunity to converse in their workplace without shouting — a rare occurrence in this type of research facility. Another welcome outcome of the design is the reduction in energy consumption thanks to the extraction of hot air at its source, which minimises the need for air conditioning. Likewise, waste reduction was top of mind as Edwards and his team redeployed some of the existing lab’s glass splashbacks to be incorporated into a new dividing wall.

Because the laboratory sits within an existing building, the team had to be mindful of minimising disruption to nearby offices and other neighbouring facilities. Planning travel routes for the instruments — some of which weigh up to two tonnes — was a key consideration.

“We liaised closely with the manufacturers of the instruments, together with our builders and engineers to plan transportation of equipment and, upon arrival, to ensure our configuration evenly distributed weight across the floor plate,” Edwards said.

The new design also incorporates a long corridor which serves as a viewing gallery from which visitors can safely observe researchers at work. Given the significant interest and profile of the research being undertaken at the ANPC, this visibility is another welcome feature.

ANPC Senior Operations Manager Sze How Bong said the response to Hames Sharley’s design has been overwhelmingly positive. “The facility’s functionality and architectural integrity have surpassed our expectations,” he said.

“We’re exceedingly grateful for Hames Sharley’s well-considered approach, which has resulted in an outstanding laboratory that continues to impress our team and our aligned networks of researchers, both locally and internationally.”

All images credit: Douglas Mark Black

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