New Biochemistry Building, University of Oxford

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New Biochemistry Building, University of Oxford
‘One’s first impression is one of the beauty of the architecture. ... The challenge for the future will be for all of us to live up to the new building’s expectations.’ Professor Kim Naysmyth October 2008 Introduction Hawkins\Brown was appointed by the University of Oxford to masterplan the core of the Science Area to create new pedestrian friendly spaces, and to establish the envelope for new Department buildings. Following a limited competition, Hawkins\Brown was appointed to design the first phase of the development - an innovative, research based building for the Department of Biochemistry. Clients brief The Department suffered from being accommodated in six different buildings. One of the key elements of the client brief was that, as well as consolidating the entire Department, their new building should facilitate and encourage the collaboration of researchers and research groups. They wanted a ‘wow’ building that challenged preconceptions of how laboratory buildings should be designed and was an aspirational first development. Massing and Site Response The accommodation requirements, generated by the need for consolidation, combined with the Carfax Height planning constraint in Oxford has resulted in a building that has four storeys of accommodation above ground and two storeys below ground and fills the majority of the site. However, the new building also balances the Departments requirements with the sensitivity of the historic context. The form steps back at the building entrance to provide a south facing courtyard to acknowledge the adjacent Grade I listed Pitt Rivers Museum. The curtain walling and coloured fins were designed to respond to the strong vertical emphasis of the historic architecture in Oxford. The cladding unifies the building but also recognises that due to the tight site the building is only ever observed obliquely. The coloured fins provide privacy to the users and a constantly changing view to passersby. A vibrant colour palette of warm ochres and burnt siennas was developed, with reference to the surrounding building materials. Building Organisation A great deal of work was carried out to ensure that the detailed scientific requirements were understood and translated into workable designs. This involved visits to many scientific institutions around the UK and further afield to learn from the successes and failures of other projects. General laboratory spaces are located to the perimeter, around a central, top lit atrium, ensuring research spaces exploit natural daylight. All lab spaces are open to and linked by a science corridor, which runs along the external envelope, providing dedicated circulation for deliveries and centralised services. Write up spaces are directly accessed from the labs and are organised around the dynamic atrium through which the main vertical circulation winds upwards. This, combined with use of glazed partitions, creates visual and physical connections between spaces at all levels. The form of the atrium was specifically designed for the collaboration between research groups. Highly serviced support laboratory spaces are located between the general labs and expressed architecturally as solid elements that run continuously vertically through the building. Each generic lab can accommodate any research group and the support spaces are designed so that services and partitions can be easily reconfigured, giving the Department future adaptability. Materials and construction The building sits above two basement levels which were built using a top down / bottom up process. This involved the construction of a secant piled wall followed by excavation of the first basement level. The steel framed super structure was then built before the remaining basement level was excavated. The façade is composed of two main elements. A unitised curtain walling system with integrated coloured fins, manufactured offsite, was chosen to ensure consistency, as well as make final installation easier and safer. The fin fixing is designed to appear as though the fin slips into the façade and be demountable. Varying panel types respond to lab, plant or office spaces behind. This sits above a plinth of precast concrete panels and aluminium louvres used for ventilation to plant spaces. The highly engineered, clinical nature of the façade and laboratory spaces to the exterior is contrasted with the warm, tactile nature of the central atrium. It was critical for creating the interactive environment required that the write up areas were open to this space. Acoustic absorption has been integrated into the steamed beech balustrade panelling and other finishes to ensure a calm working environment. Although the roof is used for plant spaces, it has been conceived as a fifth elevation, with anodised aluminium panelling concealing both internal and external areas. Environmental Issues The layout, orientation and ventilation strategy ensures the sensible inclusion and integration of environmental features in non-research spaces. All labs are daylit. Although the research spaces have to be mechanically ventilated, natural ventilation is used elsewhere including the entire atrium. Fresh air is introduced into the basement of the atrium via an underground duct and extracted at high level through five chimneys that animate the roofscape. The atrium rooflight allows daylight to filter right down into the basement and incorporates a photovoltaic array. This serves a secondary purpose of partially shading the atrium and thus reducing the quantity of solar gain to the atrium. The majority of plant installed has a long life span and can be recycled. Systems have also been designed to reduce CO2 emissions. Other environmental features include a lighting control system and rainwater harvesting. Interiors and collaboration with artists Hawkins\Brown designed all the interior finishes and was responsible for specification of furniture. An ambitious arts programme has been integrated into the design concepts from an early stage. The most public piece is a screen-printed work based on the Roschach Inkblot Test incorporated into the curtain walling of the entrance courtyard, produced by lead artist Nicky Hirst. Tim Head worked extensively with the Bioinformatics Unit to design an everchanging light installation and a bespoke carpet design. Other works are a luminescent suspended sculpture in the atrium by Annie Cattrell and Peter Fraser photographs taken during from the construction period of the new building.


14 photos and 5 drawings

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