Art in the Laboratory: A Halo Perspective

4 Jul, 2018

HSL Online talks to architects Paul Treacy and Kim Benam to find out the story behind the Halo’s artwork.

With the Halo now fully operational and primed to process more than 20 million samples a year, it’s hard to believe that it was once a 1970s office block. Three years of careful design, planning and execution have transformed the building into a state-of-the-art pathology laboratory. Architects Paul Treacy and Kim Benam were part of the team who helped turn this vision into a reality.

Location, location, location

“Being a 15-storey ex-office space, the building didn’t immediately feel appropriate for a laboratory,” says Paul. “But as we explored further, it became clear that there was the opportunity to create something really special here”.

Location was a critical factor in site selection. Situated in the heart of London’s globally renowned life sciences hub, ‘Medcity’, the building is surrounded by world-class medical research institutions and hospitals, including the Crick Institute, Wellcome Trust and University College Hospital.

“As the project progressed, our aspirations evolved as did those of the HSL executive team and senior scientists,” says Kim. “Incorporating innovative design elements has helped to make the Halo more than just a standard laboratory, and worthy of its flagship status.”

Art and science

The careful incorporation of art is one design element that sets the Halo apart. “HSL encouraged us to engage staff in the artwork process from the very beginning,” says Kim. “We asked them to contribute images from their day-to-day work – microscopic images of cells, tissues or microbes, for example.” “It was vital that staff felt connected to the artwork”, adds Paul. “We wanted the images to not only look beautiful, but also feel relevant to the people working in the Halo.”

Part of this process included detailed interrogation of every image used, to ensure each one was technically and scientifically sound. “We couldn’t have asked more from the executive team in terms of their passion and attention to the project,” says Paul. “I don’t think there’s a detail in the design that wasn’t rigorously tested and challenged.”

The artwork reflects the continuous interplay between the laboratory, its layout, and the work carried out within its walls. “As soon as you walk into the Halo you are met with a stunning piece of art,” says Kim. “It brings medical science into the main arrival space and starts you on a journey which continues throughout every level of the building.”

An artist’s impression

Martin Donlin was the artist responsible for translating the raw scientific images into works of art. Specialising in architectural glass work, Martin zoomed in on a portion of each image before staining with watercolour. Each photographic print was then encapsulated in glass and illuminated from behind.

“What we found when we enlarged these images was that they became quite abstract but really quite beautiful,” he says. “Although each image has a scientific source, none are overtly medical in nature, and can be interpreted differently by different people.”

Evidence-based design

The detailed integration of art within the Halo is part of a broader trend towards evidence-based design. This type of design considers the psychological, intellectual and physical effects of living or working within a certain space.

There is growing evidence that certain elements of hospital design, such as natural lighting, can improve patient outcomes. It makes sense that these features can impact staff too, reducing stress and improving quality of care. Integrating art into healthcare spaces is one way in which design can be used to promote staff wellbeing and enhance the safe and efficient delivery of patient care.

“Art adds life and joy to what can otherwise be quite a sterile and institutional environment”, says Paul. “We hope that the artwork within the Halo helps to inspire and empower the people who work here.”

All images courtesy of Martin Donlin

HSL is a partnership between The Doctors Laboratory, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust (the Royal Free London) and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH)

Health Services Laboratories
Health Services Laboratories
Health Services Laboratories