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Jestico + Whiles wins go-ahead for huge Cambridge University lab

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Jestico + Whiles has won approval for a major new laboratory on the University of Cambridge’s growing West Cambridge research campus 

The 34,000m² block known as the new Cavendish III Laboratory will replace existing facilities for the Department of Physics.

The building will house a number of physics research groups, their laboratories, cleanrooms, office and support accommodation, together with two lecture theatres, seminar rooms, a learning resource centre, common room and the Cavendish Collection exhibition.

The scheme is part of a wider £300 million project featuring a neighbouring 4,700m² shared facilities hub providing teaching and spaces for all members of the West Cambridge campus, alongside catering and library facilities. An application for that building is set to be determined in March.

The AJ100 practice is working on the Cavendish III Laboratory with technical architect CH2M, which was recently bought by Jacobs, and Ramboll as civil, structural and vibration engineer. There are also roles for Bouygues UK and design partners NBBJ and BDP.

The government pledged to give £75 million towards the Cavendish Laboratory as part of its 2015 spending review. In December the project received the ‘largest philanthropic donation ever made to UK science’ – an £85 million gift from the estate of Ray Dolby, a former alumnus and inventor of the world-famous Dolby noise reduction system.

Cavendish Laboratory professor Richard Phillips said: ‘The department has set very high expectations for the design of the building and we have a design that brings architectural distinction and gravitas to the site. Very detailed consideration has been given to being able to provide an environment for advanced research and our everyday work.’

Construction is due to start next year (2019) and complete in 2022.

Architect’s view

The Cavendish is arguably the most famous physics laboratory in the world, being consistently ranked as one of the top physics laboratories worldwide on the basis of the excellence of its research and teaching programme. The department has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners. It is where JJ Thomson discovered the electron, where James Chadwick discovered the neutron, where Rutherford split the atom and where Crick and Watson first discovered the structure of DNA.

The key aims of the new Cavendish Laboratory include encouraging collaboration between users and providing highly flexible and adaptable research and teaching space. The proposed building will need to accommodate 900 staff and 560 full-time equivalent students including 15 research groups.

It will house a diverse range of spaces including cleanrooms, laboratories, offices, reception, exhibition, lecture theatres, seminar rooms, learning resource centre, outreach, computer room, common room, meeting rooms, supervision rooms, teaching laboratories, workshops and stores.

The proposed building arrangement aims to resolve the complex and sometimes conflicting considerations, presented by the brief and the site, into a simple, elegant and coherent design solution. The facility is therefore organised into four principal zones: a utility zone to the west, a research zone in the centre, a public zone to the east and a ‘Street’ which links the zones together. The proposals have been heavily influenced by the highly technical requirements needed to host physics experiments, where environmental influences can distort the results. The building has been designed to provide highly controlled vibration performance, which has led to an ultra-low vibration basement located in the quietest part of the site.

The brief for the design of the building elevations outlined both functional and qualitative considerations. The latter included responding to the sense of place, defining the identity of the Cavendish, expressing the cutting-edge science being carried out in the department and creating a timeless appearance. The architecture seeks a sense of permanence and visual weight, which responds beautifully to movements in sunlight and shade, and uses durable materials in a way which is coherent and true to its construction.

The design takes inspiration from Cambridge city centre

The design takes inspiration from Cambridge city centre; its distinct identity and rich history, which is reflected in its architecture. This approach led to a simple contemporary material palette for the new Cavendish, comprising reconstituted stone, metal, render and glass.

The same palette of materials is employed across the building to give a unified sense of identity, but the balance of this palette is subtly adjusted in response to function and solar orientation.

In contrast to some of the other institutions which exist on the West Cambridge campus, views into the internal courtyards are created along JJ Thomson Avenue. This helps to break down the apparent mass of the building. Active frontages are also created on the south and east façades by creating a vibrant new public entrance square and introducing large picture windows into the public wing and some of the laboratories, thus revealing some of the cutting edge scientific research carried out at the Cavendish. The landscape treatment around the perimeter of the building ties in with this architectural approach and also provides three publicly accessible ‘pocket gardens’. 

Model: Cavendish laboratory (top) shared facilities hub (bottom)

Model: Cavendish laboratory (top) shared facilities hub (bottom)

Source: Jestico + Whiles

Model: Cavendish laboratory (top) shared facilities hub (bottom)

Project team

Client University of Cambridge
Architect and lead consultant Jestico + Whiles
Project manager and principal designer Currie & Brown
Technical architect CH2M
Cost consultant, transport consultant, masterplanner, public realm landscape architect AECOM
Civil, structures and vibration engineer, fire consultant, acoustic consultant Ramboll
Landscape architect Plincke
Mechanical and electrical engineer, BREEAM consultant Hoare Lea
Accessibility consultant David Bonnett Associates
Food service consultant Tricon
Lighting designer Studio Fractal

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