Original features

February 12, 2009

The University of Oxford's new biochemistry building, designed by Hawkins/Brown architects, aims to achieve a new ethos of interdisciplinary working and to challenge public perceptions of the inaccessible nature of research. As a result, all the elevations are transparent, with the laboratories visible from the outside.

All the interior spaces are sited around a 400 sq m, naturally ventilated, timber-clad atrium. Dramatic sculptural staircases criss-cross it, facilitating chance encounters and conversations between researchers.

The building houses 300 lecturers, researchers and students hitherto spread across a number of locations. Its external envelope is constructed using a curtain-walling system. Subtly coloured laminated glass fins are fixed vertically within the mullions, picking up on the rich colours of the surrounding buildings.

A programme of site-specific artworks known as "Salt Bridges" was an integral part of the project. These explore the interaction between art and scientific research.

For example, sculptor Annie Cattrell was commissioned to create a piece in the form of an "artist's chandelier". Known as 0 to 10,000,000 and inspired by plasma, the fourth state of matter, it consists of more than 150 iridescent birds individually suspended from the atrium roof.

Send suggestions for this architectural series to: matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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