Biochemistry Center / Hawkins Brown

Oxford University’s science center was way behind the times. Although the center was equipped with state of the art technology and some of the brightest minds, its fragmented and independent research areas made any attempt at interaction between scientists impossible. Working off academic J Rogers Hollingsworth’s theory that when scientists can frequently converse and exchange ideas, major breakthroughs are bound to happen, Hawkins Brown‘s new biochemistry building is a step in the right direction for Oxford.

More about the new Biochemistry facility after the break.

The new design rids the department of the unnecessary and unproductive separate buildings as it gathers all post-graduates of the research department in one structure.  Although, due to the project’s size, the design will be realized in two parts, when the complex is complete it will serve around 800 lecturers, researchers and students in 12,000sq m.

Although it is important to have one building unite the department, the building’s massive size was taking away any public outdoor space around the center. To combat this, Hawkins Brown cut a corner out of the plan to “clearly express the larger public function of this interim front entrance”.

The building is centered around the atrium which is designated for the much needed social interaction among scientists.  Semi-public write-up spaces and meeting rooms are formed around the atrium and the laboratories are arranged around the perimeter of the building.

Laminated colored glass fins were fixed to the mullions of the curtain wall system.  The fins provide a sense of privacy for those working in the labs and their varying color palette was selected to “pick up on the surrounding context.”

The 400sq m atrium includes an irregularly shaped “internalized connecting space” that encourages social interaction of the scientists while providing a stunning aesthetic volume.  The atrium “allows conversations to happen that wouldn’t otherwise take place in a thousand years,” explained Kim Nasmyth, the new head of Biochemistry.

Lab sizes were increased to accommodate around 24 people.  Separated by a transparent glass screen, the research floors seem completely open yet still provide scientists with the quiet atmosphere needed for working.

Although the design encourages interaction, the atrium space is never rowdy, for scientists speak “in the hushed tones of a library setting” and the vertical timber paneling absorbs any distracting sounds.

Last month the building was one of five in the south of England to win an RIBA Award, and the architects see the project making it on to the Stirling Prize list.  Plus, this year, the department’s applications increased by 50%, an achievement attributed to the new facility.

As seen on bd reported by Will Hunter.

Architect Hawkins Brown

Structural engineer Peter Brett Associates

Services engineer Foreman Roberts

Acoustic consultants Peter Brett Associates

Laboratory design consultant CUH2A

Contractor Laing O’Rourke

Project management PDCM

About this author
Cite: Karen Cilento. "Biochemistry Center / Hawkins Brown" 23 Aug 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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