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Alan Stanton & Paul Williams: 'Stirling finalists were all bloody good'

The co-founders of 2012 Stirling Prize-winning practice Stanton Williams talk to the AJ about their victory, ambushing scientists and how the public has embraced their Sainsbury Laboratory building

Alan Stanton co-founder of Stanton Williams said: ‘The [Sainsbury Laboratory] embodies much of what we’ve built up over 25 years – we’ve got some fantastically talented people and they have all contributed to this kind of language and a way of doing things that Paul and I set up in the very early days.

‘This project has had a really excellent client who has trusted us and had the vision to let us get on with it and allow us to express [our ethos] in its fullest form.

‘It wasn’t part of the brief to make this a public building – it is an institutional research organisation within the university. But because it is sited in a very public place in a garden it does kind of have public profile and we’ve been surprised how much they have embraced this building. There was a public café on one side which we had to replace. It is now doing three times the business it did. It has become a favourite venue for people in Cambridge to go.

The building is there to try and ambush scientists into meeting

‘We always wanted a courtyard building which would try to capture the space of the gardens: grab that space and bring it inside. One thinks of Japanese architecture, where the inside and outside of buildings flow into each other. We wanted to make a building like that that was also very, very low and pressed it into the ground.


‘Accidents are important for science as they are in any other creative endeavour . So the building is there to try and ambush scientists into meeting and having a cup of coffee, sitting down, plugging in laptop, where you put a white board so they can scribble a formula. That’s what we have tried to blend together an integrated whole which is rooted into it setting.’

Paul Williams, co-founder Stanton Williams said: ‘The common element of the Stirling Prize shortlist was people.

‘All the schemes were concerned with their users – how people used the internal spaces and the day-to day-experiences of the environment.

They are all bloody good buildings

‘That’s why we wanted to win it. All the other projects had the desire to celebrate people-inhabited buildings, whether it was the Lyric or the Maggie’s – they are all bloody good buildings and that makes it even more special winning this prize because of the high calibre of the other projects.

In our view any of them could have won it.’

‘Great architecture comes from great clients. Early on there was a lot of discussion [with this building] about how the process works, how they engage with the subject itself and the way in which they debate and have discussions with each other. The dialogue with the laboratory bench, the scientist one-to-one and in groups and with the landscape. This building has a huge dialogue with the surrounding landscape – visually the scientists are always engaged with their surroundings which was planted by Henslow?? The tutor of Darwin.

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