Dry-lining panels by Fermacell feature throughout the new IGMM complex building in Edinburgh.

Gypsum fibreboard partitioning by specialist building panel manufacturer Fermacell was specified for a redeveloped research facility for a quadruplet of reasons at least, its fire and acoustic properties, robustness and weight bearing capabilities to name just a few.

Some 5,000m2 of 12mm square-edged fermacell was used throughout the University of Edinburgh’s £11 million development of the Institute for Genetics and Molecular Medicine (IGMM) at the city’s Western General Hospital.

It was specified by the city’s Oberlanders Architects LLP for the five-storey building which links three existing buildings in the complex – the Medical Research Council’s Human Genetics Unit, the Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine, and the Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre – to form a world-class research facility.

Frequent Fermacell specifiers, Oberlanders’ brief was to repurpose existing laboratories to enable expansion of IGMM research programmes. The project included dry-lab computational research space linked by a spiral stair within a dramatic south-facing, double-height space, dedicated lecture facilities (including a 180-person lecture theatre) and a social hub and café.

The Western General Hospital campus in which the IGMM complex is located is an amalgamation of medical buildings built in the hospital grounds over the past 140 years, beginning with St Cuthbert’s Poorhouse which opened in 1868 and subsequently renamed a “hospital”.

In contemporary contrast, the new IGMM building uses a steel frame allowing large clear spans internally. The main façade is essentially single aspect and has glass curtain walling to maximise natural daylight and create an appealing working environment. Brick is used extensively to provide solid book ends to the curtain walling. A spacious roof terrace with overhanging canopy is provided at top floor level, affording stunning views of the Edinburgh skyline.

There were many landmark stages for the build in a live research/hospital environment with complex existing services to contend with.

Oberlanders senior architect Rob Bunworth said: “Certainly the ability of the contractor to get the build wind- and water-tight against the sometimes harsh Scottish climate was a milestone, allowing the fermacell internal walling systems to progress apace.”

The fermacell panels were installed by specialist sub-contractors ORR Fire Protection and Alexander Gatey for phase one main contractor BAM Construction and construction, refurbishment and maintenance contractor Clark Contracts.

Rob Bunworth added: “The building has been an unqualified success. Key to this is delivering connectivity to the previously separate institutes as well as delivering on the client’s aspirations for bright, well-lit and appealing working environments. The building also delivers on the client briefing requirements by offering many informal study and breakout environments to help foster interdisciplinary crossover and synergy.

“Our previous positive experience with fermacell on several education projects in the UK led us to use the range of partition products again due to its robustness and fire/acoustic properties. An additional benefit is fermacell’s weight bearing capacity without the requirement for additional lining or support, thus providing flexibility in locating shelving, fixtures and equipment internally during the fit-out phase of the project.

“The project uses fermacell partition and independent wall lining systems extensively – all internal walls are fermacell. The large spans of fermacell partition systems are particularly visible to the large 17m-high central atrium linking the reception and foyer to the upper circulation areas.

“The fermacell systems as utilised in the build allowed Oberlanders the flexibility to specify many different variations on partition types dealing with myriad fire and acoustic issues. Its robustness and severe duty rating, in addition to its loadbearing capacity, allowed for flexibility in our design response across the project.”

He emphasised: “The internal wall components have stood up well alongside the other finishes on the project. Fermacell was able to achieve the height, performance criteria (fire and acoustic), surface finish and robustness characteristics to several demanding environments within the project.

“10mm deflection joints required for movement within the fermacell partition system have been specifically set out to provide a coordinated and ultimately pleasing grid pattern within the highly-visible four-storey atrium space located at the heart of the building.”

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