Rosalind Franklin Laboratory

Expediting delivery to fight Covid-19

Building the UK Government’s testing and diagnostic capabilities

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Rosalind Franklin Laboratory Project summary

Client company name

UK Health Security Agency

Key Partners

HOK, WSP, Balfour Beatty, BBK


Life Sciences, Research & Pharmaceuticals

Services provided



Sectors, Life sciences and pharmaceuticals


UK and Europe


Project story

When it comes to tackling a national health emergency, speed is imperative. Speed of thought. Speed in decision-making. And speed of delivery.

That’s why, in 2020, in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the UK Government launched an ambitious programme to significantly scale up the nation’s testing and diagnostics facilities, to support the mass population testing programme.

Having successfully delivered the Nightingale Hospital at ExCeL in London at the height of the pandemic, a multidisciplinary team, led by Mace, took on the challenge of supporting the Department of Health and Social Care and then the UK Health Security Agency, in delivering an ultra-high throughput Covid-19 testing laboratory. The Rosalind Franklin Laboratory is the result of that partnership – and a new benchmark within pharma and life sciences.

The new facility deploys ePCR technology to enable fast and accurate diagnostics and has processed over eight million samples since opening in June 2021, playing a significant role in allowing the reopening of the UK economy and society, supporting the country in moving forward from the pandemic. 

Through collaboration, an expedited design process, and implementing Modern Methods of Construction, the team successfully compressed the schedule from a typical 2.5 years to just nine months, from initial involvement to the first live tests being processed.

Our approach was also designed such that we were able to progressively hand over individual lab lines while construction of the remaining lab lines continued. In October 2021, the facility processed its one millionth PCR test - less than 12 weeks after validation of the first lab line.

Project Stats

8 million plus PCR tests processed
9 months to the first live tests being processed
11 undergraduate and 4 PhD placements from top universities


Retrofit to expedite delivery

The project is housed within what was an existing distribution warehouse, utilising the building envelope, structural slab and services. By retrofitting an existing structure, the team substantially reduced construction activities, while compressing the programme and significantly reducing our carbon footprint.

Location, location, location

The location of the Laboratory was chosen to link into key areas of medical research in Oxford, Cambridge and Warwick – delivering a facility where access to local scientific talent would be easily accessible, increasing the potential outcomes and support. Located within around two hours from England's largest airports, the lab is well served by surrounding motorways and rail, while 90% of the UK population are within a four-hour drive. Throughout, local universities have been supportive in training and engaging with the facility, resulting in 11 undergraduate and four PhD placements from the top universities - University of Warwick and Birmingham City University - benefiting from placements at the lab.

Standardisation of lab space

A very early decision for the project was to standardise lab spaces throughout the facility. All lab spaces were standardised and made multi acuity enabling speed of construction, a phased process of lessons learned and reduction of overall cost. Standardisation of lab spaces enabled the delivery team to learn quickly and apply those lessons learned on subsequent lab lines.

An agile approach

Instead of following the usual linear process through design to construction we tackled everything simultaneously: client brief, concept sketches, coordinating services, and speaking to the supply chain. To aid faster decision making, we used charrettes – short, intense design meetings where we sketched out ideas and implemented client feedback in real time, securing important decisions in the session.