Building magazine profiles Oak Cancer Centre of The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in Surrey

Designed to enhance collaboration, the state-of-the-art facility brings together specialised researchers and consultants under one roof. This integrated approach fosters interaction and promotes cancer research advancements.

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The recently completed facility, called the Oak Cancer Centre, has been designed to make that process more effective by bringing together its researchers, who are consultants specialising in cancer treatments with a research interest, together under one roof. The idea is that this will promote interaction and collaboration to help advance research, a model adopted by many life sciences institutions such as the Francis Crick Institution in London.

In a sign of financially straitened times, the £70m building has mostly been funded by private donations channelled through the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. The building is named after the Oak Foundation, which donated £25m. The names of the sponsors are incorporated into different parts of the building, so there is the Goldman Sachs Centre for Urgent Care, the Ralph Lauren Research Wing and the Laurence Misener Meeting Room Suite.

The centre features an attractive full-height atrium clad with timber slats, an oak floor in recognition of the building’s name, a glass feature lift and a striking central stair with gold-coloured, perforated balustrade with the holes arranged in the shape of oak leaves. The building features a relatively narrow, west-facing, crescent-shaped front section embracing a new garden area with a large box behind.

The focus is on creating a high-quality environment for patients as they may be in the unit all day receiving an infusion, with evidence suggesting a quality environment is very important for cancer recovery. Patients can talk to their neighbours and even walk with their mobile infusion stand out onto a terrace. There is also more office space for researchers on this floor.

Ensuring that the new facility worked optimally for staff and patients was a key focus for the hospital. “We involved many of the clinicians in the design of the building,” Thorman says. “This is driven by operational policy including how the building will operate, what services need to be next to each other and how it functions.”

“The application of virtual reality tools was a crucial aspect in assisting medical professionals in navigating the technical drawings of the building structure. It enables medical professionals to immerse themselves virtually in key areas such as the atrium, the daycare unit and the diagnostic areas.”

Andrew Wilson, Operation Director, ISG

This approach is eminently sensible but comes with a challenge: while medical professionals are fantastic at helping people get better, they are not necessarily any good at understanding and interpreting technical drawings. During the tender process, ISG proposed using virtual reality tools to get around this issue. Thorman says this was a key reason why it was awarded the design and build contract.

Andrew Wilson, ISG’s operations director, says VR was very useful, firstly for allowing Thorman to fully experience the impacts of different finishes to help him decide where money could be saved. And it was invaluable for getting the detail of treatment areas right for staff and patients.

VR was also used to model the diagnostic spaces including the endoscopy rooms and justify derogations from the very strict requirements of the hospital memorandums. “It was very useful to be able to model that you could physically fit the bed, the endoscopy pendants, the monitors and medical gases into the space and still be able to work the room,” says Wilson.

The building is now finished, with the researchers already in the building and the clinical spaces gearing up for action. For Thorman the building is already doing what it set out to do. “I’ve had consultants who are based in this building say to me that they have seen more colleagues in one day than they have seen in the last six months,” he says.

Thorman hopes that the facility will also attract pharmaceutical companies who want to run drug trials. This unit will help the Royal Marsden to treat more people and should help advance cancer treatments more rapidly as well – significant benefits that will help to reduce the devastating impact that cancer has on people’s lives.


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