It’s done. My lab has moved from our old site in Mill Hill into the brand new Francis Crick Institute, Midland Road, opposite St Pancras Station. My lab’s move also happened to complete the main phase of the migration into the new building. A process that started, almost to the day, six months ago. During the last half year, more than 1500 people from four sites spread around London have moved to Midland Road. Now all the research labs, support services, core facilities and administration have moved and we’re all located under a single brand-new roof in central London. This doesn’t mean that the transition is entirely finished, there is still some work going on at the old sites and it will be another few months until they are handed over to their new owners. But our Mill Hill passes were officially deactivated on December 23rd and emphasis is now shifting from migration and on to getting everything running normally again.
My lab’s move was both easier and more difficult than I was anticipating. As we were one of the last to move we benefited from watching everyone else move before us. This meant we knew what to expect and we were better prepared than some of the early movers. The major breakdown and pack-up of our Mill Hill lab was finished over an intensive few days. Everyone in the lab pitched in and it was more enjoyable than I thought it would be. It turned out to be a good exercise in building team spirit and allowed the organisation and motivational skills of several lab members to shine. The move company expertly and professionally handled the move itself and all of our equipment arrived on time, and mostly in the right place. Although microscopes are still being installed and tissue culture incubators commissioned, we were able to start molecular biology experiments within a week and activity was beginning to return to normal – before being interrupted for Christmas. All in all, it went more smoothly than I was expecting and resulted in a feeling of solidarity and goodwill within the lab.
What was more difficult and unexpected were the emotions associated with leaving Mill Hill. Being in the last phase of the move meant that most labs had left several weeks before us. The feeling of a building in decline and an awareness of an end of an era was very apparent. Having been in Mill Hill for sixteen years and knowing the history of the scientists and discoveries associated with the building, it was hard not feel a sense of loss on leaving for the last time. It’s also difficult not to worry whether our new home will be as supportive and good for us as Mill Hill has been. It’s still too early to tell what working in Midland Road will really be like and how well we will fit in. So despite the excitement about the new facilities, new colleagues and new opportunities, there is uncertainty about the future and the sentimentality for what used to be.
Fittingly, setting up the new lab coincides with the New Year, a good opportunity for new starts and turning over a new leaf. I’m looking forward to participating in and watching my lab as it re-establishes itself and settles in to the new environment. It will be interesting to see what stays the same and what changes – as a biologist interested in ideas from engineering, I see this as a good opportunity to test which features are robust to environmental perturbations and which are sensitive. More broadly, I’m curious to see how all the labs and facilities settle into the new building and how the culture and character of the institute reconfigures itself over the next months and years. The coming together of the groups from the two founding institutes – MRC-National Institute for Medical Research and the London Research Institute of CRUK – will make an interesting case study of how institutes merge and develop new scientific cultures. Not only that, but during the many years of planning for the Crick, detailed concepts and ideas were developed both for the design of the physical architecture of the building and also for how the institute will be organised and operated. I’m looking forward to seeing what works, what doesn’t; where we got things right and what we got wrong. As the military maxim goes, no plan survivesfirst contact with the enemy. I’m already intrigued to see how the labs that moved in a few months ago are adapting and altering spaces that the architects and builders left in pristine, clinical perfection. Some of the alterations are for practical reasons to make their science work but much of it reflects individual personalities and the desire of the occupants to make the labs their own. We’ll see how this extends to other aspects of institute culture and operation over the coming months and years. I’ll try to find the time to report my observations….
Oh and by the way, please note my new address: 1 Midland Road, London, NW1 1AT