Project spotlight.
LaMB: Life and Mind Building, University of Oxford.

Our cross-discipline team for this new Life and Mind Sciences building at University of Oxford approached the project in a new way. The aim was to put culture and behaviour at the foundation of everything they did, creating a working environment that ensured everyone felt included and connected.

The University of Oxford is creating a new home for the Departments of Experimental Psychology, Plant Sciences and Zoology, provisionally called the Life and Mind Building, or ‘LaMB’. It will be the University’s largest project to date.

The building will provide laboratories for undergraduates, postgraduates and researchers, as well as lecture theatres, specialised support laboratories and opportunities for public engagement. The design reflects principles of inclusiveness and openness between occupants to promote the exchange of knowledge and ideas. Open plan layouts, flexible labs, shared meeting and teaching facilities, and common spaces will all bolster interdisciplinary collaboration. Public shared spaces for art, exhibitions, lectures and conferences will also offer a ‘window into science’ for all.

Of particular note are the ‘constant environment’ and glass house spaces that will be used to grow an array of plants from across the globe for research purposes. Situated on the roof, the glass houses will maximise daylight and solar gain, whilst the constant environment rooms situated throughout the building will be capable of replicating any environment in the world. Both feature an intelligent control system to manage temperature, humidity and seasonal lighting cycles.

Defining culture and behaviour.

We have completed our work at Stage 2 and, while we wouldn’t normally do a project spotlight this early in development, the way the team approached this job was particularly interesting. The success to date poses a question: should we put as much focus on defining and appraising our culture and behavioural values on a project as we do on our internal technical and commercial performance?

At the outset, both the results of the 2018 Engagement Survey and our values were used to establish how to approach the project most effectively. The team set out personal commitments for how they wanted to behave and communicate, pledging to treat every engineering discipline equally when it came to sharing information, coordinating and defining our designs.

They set up ‘weekly huddles’, conducted over Skype, which acted as a catch-up for everyone involved, as well as providing a chance for updates about the project brief, design team requirements, and changes from the client. Email addresses were set up so that everyone could receive the right information, from the right people, at the right time. A cloud-hosted OneNote, accessible to all, was used to log meeting minutes, coordinate design solutions and track stage progress.

Defining and committing to this infrastructure for communication meant that they had no problems tracking fast moving changes to requirements, while the inclusive culture allowed well-coordinated responses to be quickly communicated to the client. This unblocked many of the challenges typically faced by large teams in this fast-changing environment and led to a more enjoyable project, deadlines being met and, ultimately, getting paid.

More than this, though, was the way that our people were empowered to strike up conversations with external groups involved with the project. Our Security team spoke directly with the University; our Fire Engineering group was in touch with the insurers; MEP engineers were in conversation with the architect about the plant; while the Acoustics team worked directly with the planners around noise restrictions.

The team was clear on fees, deadlines and objectives and everyone knew what the other groups were doing. We all felt empowered by being kept well informed of the reasons behind design or programme changes. This approach didn’t just make us better coordinated, but the time spent communicating every week meant we made useful time savings when it came to the design. It felt like every hour Kel spent on project managing the Hoare Lea team was an hour saved by each of the specialist discipline team leaders.

Gael Vilatarsana

Associate Director, Acoustics


After completing Stage 2, the team had a ‘reflection day’, to debrief, celebrate and discuss the success and challenges of the stage. This identified ways to improve the cultural approach to the project through Stage 3. This has led to an updated set of behavioural commitments, such as the feeling that the members of our Finance and Admin teams who supported the project should also be included in the weekly huddles.

Many of our people also mentioned that this project allowed them to see how our brand values are relevant and naturally embedded in day-to-day project work. By committing to the right behaviours, living our values becomes effortless, and everything else flows smoothly from there.

As the team move into Stage 3, we’ve been approached to submit fees for the Stage 4 design onwards by all three tendering contractors. The architect (our direct client), has insisted that the whole design team is retained, while the Project Manager has been singing our praises – further ratification of the external outcomes of doing the right thing.

Ultimately, the success of this stage of the project shows that if you get the right culture embedded from the start, everything else falls into place.

The team.

Project lead: Kel Ross
Technical lead: Matthew Phinbow
Acoustics: Gael Vilatarsana, Robert Iafrati
Business Support: Alexandra Fulger, Chloe Eldridge, Louise Squires
Daylighting: Ruth Kelly Waskett
Digital: Craig Hobbs, Richard Noble
Fire: Brad Rockell, Louis Chaumont
Lighting: Ben Acton
MEP: Andy Grant, Charles Francis, Nick Lawrence, Will Dibble, Zoe Dolan
Security: John Taylor, Madalina Munteanu, Richard Jones
Sustainability: James Ford, Kevin Couling, Rodrigo Garcia, Taylor Cook
VT: Matt Grantham-Hill, Sebastian Dreer
Engineering Visualisation: Matthew Partridge, Rob Spry