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FIRST LOOK

Hawkins\Brown’s physics facility for University of Oxford features 16m basement

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The £50 million Beecroft Building sits above the deepest basement in Oxford

Located in the university’s science area on Parks Road, the Beecroft Building will accommodate some 200 theoretical and experimental physicists. This 16m-deep complex of laboratories is intended to house environmentally sensitive atomic-level experiments which will advance the university’s research into areas such as quantum science and technology. 

The building’s façade is designed to echo the nearby Keble College with the rhythm, vertical emphasis and colour of its bronze, glass and expanded copper mesh cladding. Naturally weathering bronze fins create a grid, through which large picture windows establish visual connections with the nearby university parks. 


Inside, the focal point of the building is a central atrium that connects the research offices and informal workspaces above ground with the laboratories in the basement. Landings on the upper floors are equipped with blackboards and seating for presentations and collaborative work in an attempt to transform the working methods of researchers in the Physics Department. 

The depth of the basement facilitates high standards of vibration isolation for sensitive experiments. Its ’black box laboratories’ are housed atop monolithic concrete keel slabs. The slabs, the heaviest of which weighs 54 tonnes, are mounted on complex damping systems which prevent disruption to nano-scale experiments from nearby vibrating sources. Plant equipment is housed in a separate sub-basement, again to prevent the disturbance of extremely sensitive experiments.  

1149 n59854 (c) jack hobhouse

1149 n59854 (c) jack hobhouse

Architect’s view

The building is essentially a 10-storey tower – half of it buried below ground to achieve the performance requirements. The split character of the building belies the unified concept that guided our design. By taking responsibility for both the technical design of the labs as well as the workspace above ground, Hawkins\Brown was able to integrate the two halves into a coherent whole that creates opportunities for social and collaborative working.

Oliver Milton, head of the education & research sector, Hawkins\Brown

1149 n58409 (c) wigwam visual

1149 n58409 (c) wigwam visual

Client’s view

Modern science is essentially collaborative — the days of the lone scientist are long gone. The Beecroft Building has been designed to enable and encourage people to work together in the fluid combinations that are crucial to solving today’s complex scientific problems, and to provide a laboratory environment that is second to none globally. 

Professor John Wheater, head of the department of physics, University of Oxford

1149 beecroft 3d stmlab groundfill

1149 beecroft 3d stmlab groundfill

Laboratory detail

Project data

Start on site September 2015
Completion May 2018
Gross internal floor area 8,950 sqm
Form of contract or procurement route Two stage Design and Build
Construction cost £50m
Construction cost per sqm £5,586 
Client The University of Oxford
Programme management University of Oxford Estates Services
Architect Hawkins\Brown
Main contractor Laing O’Rourke
Project manager WSP
Cost consultant Turner & Townsend
M&E engineer Hoare Lee
Structural engineer Peter Brett Associates
Landscape architect BD Landscape
Acoustic consultant Hoare Lea
Sustainability engineer Hoare Lea
CDM consultant Scott White & Hookins
CAD software used Revit

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