The Biochemistry Department at Oxford University is the largest in the UK and internationally renowned for research work in DNA, cell growth and immunity. The building achieves a new ethos of “interdisciplinary working” where the exchange of ideas is promoted in a large collective and connective environment. At the same time researchers have the space to concentrate on intense work in highly serviced laboratories.
The building deliberately challenges the public perceptions of the secretive nature of research. Elevations are transparent with research spaces brought to the external face, making a political point about the value and integrity of biomedical research.
The facades are enriched by a series of laminated glass fins which frame views in and out of the building, creating complex patterns of colour as the light changes. The fins reflect the rich red, terracotta, orange, brown and purple of the surrounding buildings. The interior spaces revolve round a 400sqm informal atrium criss-crossed by dramatic sculptural staircases that encourage chance encounters between researchers. Informal meeting areas are dispersed across this central space, linking open plan “write-up” areas.
The art / architecture programme, Salt Bridges, has brought artists in direct collaboration with researchers within the department to produce site-specific works exploring the dynamic interaction between artistic practice and scientific research to compliment the architecture. Success of the building’s impact can be marked in different ways, there is evidence to link the placing of the new building on the Biochemistry website to a 50% increase in applicants wanting to study Biochemistry at Oxford.
The building and its accompanying art programme is the subject of a new building monograph ‘Salt Bridges: Changing Perceptions of Art/Architecture and Science’ published by Prestel, 2010.
Awards: RIBA Award 2009, BD Higher Education of the Year Award 2009 Photo credits: Tim Crocker and Keith Collie