© 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 high-specification auditorium, meeting spaces, and a herbarium with Charles Darwin’s own plant and seed collection, all within a building set against the backdrop of John Henslow’s botanic garden.

Given its sensitive location, the key focus in the design was to achieve a natural look with high-quality cast concrete and natural hand-set stone. The building and landscape design help set the building into its surroundings by dropping the ground floor level by half a metre into the landscape, and all of the plant is housed within the basement, giving clean lines to the roof elevation.

Scientist connectivity within the building is a key design feature, where the ‘street’ at first floor level links the two identical sets of office and laboratory spaces and winds around the building, providing staff with directs sight to the garden around the building.

The application of exposed structure as architecture in a laboratory building is unique, and the services from the wet labs on first floor are intricately hidden behind acoustic baffles between the exposed concrete rib slabs that are magnificently expressed in the auditoria and meeting rooms on the ground floor. The building also houses a TEM suite, which was strategically positioned so it could be structurally and acoustically isolated from the surrounding building.

Apt, given its organic function, is the interdependent nature of the architecturally expressed structure. The ‘street’ slab and the roof, for example, mutually support one another, and temporary propping of these elements during construction required careful programming. The entirety of the structure comprised exposed, high-quality in-situ concrete, with no capacity for movement joints or thermal breaks. This 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.

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

Cambridge, UK
University of Cambridge
Stanton Williams
£ 82 million
11,000 m²

  • 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