The Biochemistry Department at Oxford University is the largest in the UK and is internationally renowned for its research in the understanding of DNA, cell growth and immunity. Previously the department’s scientists have had to conduct research in outmoded buildings spread across the Science Area in the centre of Oxford. The brief for the new building was to achieve a new ethos of “interdisciplinary working” where the exchange of ideas is promoted in a large collaborative environment. At the same time space was required to enable the research groups to focus on their cutting-edge work in state-of-the-art laboratories.
The building challenges public perceptions of the inaccessible nature of research. All of the elevations are transparent, with the laboratories visible at the external face. This open and transparent approach makes a statement about the value and integrity of the biomedical research inside. The new facilities bring together over 300 researchers and post graduate students working together in bioinformatics, chromosome biology, molecular biophysics and biochemistry. The project reflects the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of scientific research, which no longer relies on traditional departmental demarcations but requires “thinking” spaces which facilitate cross fertilization of ideas.
All of the interior spaces revolve around a 400sqm organic shaped naturally ventilated, timber clad atrium. Dramatic sculptural staircases criss-cross the atrium, which facilitate chance encounters and conversations between researchers. Informal meeting areas are dispersed across the atrium on all five floors. Open plan write-up areas also share the atrium space. All the cellular office accommodation has full height glazed partitioning to allow greater transparency and availability.
The external envelope of the new Biochemistry Building is constructed using a unitised curtain walling system. Subtly coloured laminated glass fins fixed vertically within the mullions wrap the full perimeter of the building, framing views in and out of the building as well as providing a single architectural language which unifies the building. The colours of the fins pick up on the rich red, terracotta, orange, brown and plum of the surrounding buildings, providing a bold yet complementary take on the historic setting of Oxford. Due to the tight site the building is only ever viewed obliquely and this arrangement ensures good daylight for users while controlling long views into and out from the building to provide a degree of privacy. The glass fins cast ever-changing coloured light and shadows across the elevations, making patterns of light within the building and across the surrounding streets.
The new Biochemistry’s art programme “Salt Bridges” was a major constituent in providing this creative and thought-provoking environment. Lead artist Nicky Hirst was appointed by the Department to work with the Department and Hawkins\Brown in creating a strategy for accommodating challenging site-specific art within the building.
The distinctive 12,000 sq m facility with its glass facades and coloured glass fins brings together 300 lecturers, researchers and students previously based in a number of separate buildings. Inside, a 400 sq m atrium with breakout spaces and specially commissioned artworks encourages collaboration between the researchers. The Biochemistry Department at Oxford University is the largest in the UK and is internationally renowned for its research in the understanding of DNA, cell growth and...
- Year 2008
- Work finished in 2008
- Client Oxford University Estates Directorate
- Status Completed works
- Type Colleges & Universities