© Hufton + Crow
© Hufton + Crow
© Hufton + Crow
© Hufton + Crow
© Hufton + Crow
© Hufton + Crow
© Hufton + Crow
© Hufton + Crow

Sainsbury Laboratory

“World class architecture for world class research” was the pledge made when Lord Sainsbury released funds to produce a new institute for research into plant science at the edge of Cambridge’s botanical gardens. The institute houses laboratories, a herbarium and Charles Darwin’s own plant and seed collection behind an award-winning façade.

Given its sensitive location, the key focus in the design was to achieve a natural look with high quality cast concrete and stone. A ‘street’ at ground floor level links office and laboratory spaces, and winds around the building, providing staff with access to the garden below. The building’s height has been minimised by sinking the structure into the ground and including a basement storey to house plant, thus also reducing the impact of vibration on delicate laboratory equipment.

Apt, given its organic function, is the interdependent nature of the structure. The ‘street’ slab and the roof, for example, support each other, and propping of these elements until site completion required careful programming. The entirety of the structure comprised exposed, high quality in-situ concrete, with no capacity for movement joints or thermal breaks. The high quality in-situ concrete has set new industry standards for visual concrete design, procurement and construction. The intricate detailing between the structural concrete and other finishes are second to none.

There was also flexibility in terms of structural floor typologies and a variety were discussed and implemented. Flat slabs were combined with rib slabs and encased waffle slabs, dependent on the span required and the deflection allowance. Polystyrene void formers were used where possible to reduce the weight of the concrete slabs.

Stirling Prize-winning laboratory in stone and concrete with interdependent structural elements

Cambridge, UK
University of Cambridge
Stanton Williams
£ 65 million

  • 2012 RIBA Stirling Prize
  • 2012 RIBA Award
  • 2012 RIBA Regional Building of the Year
  • 2012 Civic Trust Award
  • 2012 Lighting Design Award
  • 2012 Considerate Constructors Bronze Award
  • 2011 WAF Award – Best Learning Building
  • 2011 BCI Awards – Highly Commended
  • 2011 Concrete Society Awards – Overall Winner
  • 2011 Concrete Society Award – Best Building
  • 2011 Construction News Awards – Highly Commended
  • 2011 David Urwin Design Awards – Commended