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

The Beecroft Building, innovatively designed for the University of Oxford, was featured in the Architects' Journal.

First look

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.

“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, Partner and Head of Education & Research sector

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 Department of Physics, University of Oxford

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