Neil McLean

Neil McLean

UK & Europe

Neil McLean is architectural team leader. Neil leads the architects in our Glasgow office and has over ten years’ experience working with higher education clients to design and deliver world class buildings. With a passion for science, Neil specialises in the design of research facilities which are helping to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

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Campuses located outside of the town centre can further compound this issue, especially if those seeking out support from student services have nowhere close by at their time of need.
This was the situation that Edinburgh University found themselves in a few years ago on their Easter Bush campus, located to the south of Edinburgh. The university took the decision in 2007 to co-locate all vet teaching to this location, merging with the Roslin Institute and forging a strategic partnership with BBSRC, with an aim to deliver a European Centre of excellence in animal sciences and food security.

They developed an ambitious investment plan and 20 year masterplan to achieve this vision, and set about developing and delivering key advance buildings such as the new Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies (2010) and the new Roslin Institute (2011).

At first the campus was well served by the café spaces in these two key buildings. However as the campus began to grow, there was a distinct lack of other shared social facilities or student support for the campus, which was seen as key to its development beyond 2013. To this end the university looked to commission the Centre Building Hub.

Designed by Atkins, this new building provides a core where people can mix socially and intellectually, and a gathering space allowing meeting, sharing and interaction from across the campus and beyond. This will fundamentally improve the experience, and in turn the wellbeing, of the current and future users of the expanding campus, encouraging them to stay on campus longer.
The inclusion of a gym, cycle changing, shop, social, student services and multi faith space, as well as a science outreach centre, will have a positive impact on the wellbeing of everyone at Easter Bush campus. Most importantly, it will give students access to the on campus support they previously lacked. With the university seeing a 75% jump in students accessing counselling services between 2011-12 and 2014-15, making these easy to access on campus will be a huge benefit.

Shelagh Green at Edinburgh University said: “In a global, sector-leading university, students must be at the heart of what we do.  This project supports our world-class teaching and research to be mirrored by a world-class student experience supported by world-class services. It facilitates access to central services that support student development, wellbeing and success, both inside and outside the classroom, enabling our student to flourish. The integrated design based on hub and spoke delivery enables students at Easter Bush to benefit from the high quality expertise available at other campus sites. This approach affords the flexibility to anticipate and respond to the student need through ‘pop-up’ provision and the provision of frontline expertise on key aspects of the student experience mapped to the academic life-cycle. Working across structural boundaries, it puts the student at the heart.”

For all students, going into higher education offers both challenges and opportunities. The task for universities is to help students capitalise on the positive mental health benefits of higher education while identifying and providing appropriate support to those who are more vulnerable to its pressures. Providing students with the support they need to fulfil their potential is not only in the interest of the institution, but also in the interest of society as a whole. With mental health issues on the rise, the importance of creating inclusive, social, and supported campus environments, like Edinburgh’s Easter Bush campus, are greater than ever.

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Today, higher education institutions are bringing people and organisations together like never before to advance science, technology, medicine and society. Although partnerships between universities and businesses are nothing new, they are becoming increasingly important as institutions compete head-to-head globally while negotiating financial constraints and economic uncertainty. These partnerships are also the driving force behind interdisciplinary research, as the public and private sectors work together to solve the world’s most pressing and complex problems.

From a design point of view, university buildings must support this meeting of minds and facilitate research which often looks to push boundaries in terms of scale and ambition, thanks, in part, to the stakeholder mix and diverse funding mechanisms.

Universities today bring together students, staff and research scientists in shared facilitates that often include research and development incubator laboratories and offices which are let out commercially to outside companies. Many benefit from open-plan primary labs and write-up spaces as well as shared secondary labs and back of house preparation rooms – all designed to encourage and harness a sense of collaboration.

We must be careful, though, so as not to allow shared spaces to become generic environments that cater for all but speak for none.

We must strive to strengthen a university’s identity and protect its heritage, no matter what we’re designing. Bringing students, staff, research scientists and the private sector together under one roof should be the norm – we should embrace open plan workspaces, communal cafés and shared facilities, especially if they help trigger that conversation which alters the course of research or development. But, we must also embrace where those facilities are and what they’re part of.

To this end, an intimate understanding of universities has never been more important.

The University of Edinburgh’s new Centre Building at its Easter Bush Campus will create specialist research facilities for use by the University and external organisations. Throughout the design process we worked very closely with the university to ensure that the building recognised its identity and history, whilst also conveying a bold future with its external appearance.

The interior design followed a set of themes developed not just for the new research facilities but for the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine (CMVM) that they’re part of. It was important that people moving between the various CMVM buildings across multiple campuses enjoyed a sense of familiarity and identity, uncompromised by location or building type. This was especially important at Easter Bush Campus where the CMVM schools have migrated from their historic, 100-year old city centre homes.

At a time when universities are opening their doors like never before and collaborating with the private sector to advance research, our design responses have become critical to ensuring that we all embrace history, heritage and progress.

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