Beecroft Building, University of Oxford\

The physics department transformed

This innovative design for theoretical and experimental physics research at University of Oxford achieved planning consent on one of the most sensitive sites in Oxford and will transform the capabilities of one of the largest physics departments in the world.

Enhancing the wider context

As the Physics Department’s first new building in 50 years the Beecroft Building will provide world-class research facilities for experimental and theoretical physicists, consolidating their varying requirements into a single centre of excellence.

Sited in a highly sensitive and prominent location the Beecroft Building is a landmark within the wider university context. Completing the existing physics complex within the Science Area, the new building sits on a very high profile site at the entrance to the University Parks, opposite Sir William Butterfield’s grade I listed Keble College Chapel among prominent, historic trees. Including a new forecourt and public realm improvements around the University Parks entrance, the Beecroft Building establishes an identifiable gateway to the university estate along Parks Road. The building enjoys expansive views across the University Parks to the north and is arranged to respond to a varied context with a range of scales and settings. The building form and facade were carefully designed in response to surrounding buildings. It is clad in a combination of bronze, glass and expanded copper mesh insert panels with a grid of naturally weathering bronze fins. The rhythm, vertical emphasis and colour respond to the upright gothic style of Keble College. Large picture windows frame views into and out of the internal collaboration spaces, creating visual connections between activities within the building and its context.

Transforming physics research

The Beecroft Building will bring together 200 researchers from theoretical and experimental physics, uniting the two disciplines within one building.

The building has been designed to foster collaborative working in a visually connected yet acoustically controlled environment. Offices and collaboration spaces are organised within a five storey atrium connected by a meandering staircase that enhances social interactions. Breakout spaces are arranged at half levels within the atrium, with informal seating arranged around double height curved blackboards. These provide opportunities for group working and serendipitous meetings.

The design transforms the way the Department works, encouraging two separate disciplines to share an environment far work akin to a modern workplace than an institutional research facility.

“It will contain state-of-the art labs, comparable to the very best world-wide, and will enable us to do research that is impossible in our current facilities.”

Professor John Wheater, Head of the Department of Physics (2010-18), University of Oxford

Advancing physics research

The Beecroft Building is designed to facilitate extremely sensitive experiments that will advance the University’s research into areas such as quantum science and technology, and the fundamental laws of nature. The environmental and anti-vibration performance of the high specification laboratories is amongst the very best globally.

Buildings in central Oxford are restricted by the city’s “Carfax Height” policy, which limits new buildings within 1.2km of Carfax Tower in the centre of Oxford to 18m in height. In order to fit the full complement of accommodation required by the university onto the site, including an extensive amount of services and plant to achieve the extremely stable and tightly controlled laboratory environments, the development of Oxford’s deepest basement was necessary. The 16 metre-deep construction houses two floors of facilities that meet the highest global standards.

Within the robust basement floors, structurally isolated “black box” laboratories that require onerous standards of vibration isolation have been created. These are housed on top of monolithic concrete keel slabs, the heaviest of which weighs 54 tonnes, and are mounted on sophisticated damping systems to provide a stable platform for nano-scale experiments that are otherwise sensitive enough to be affected by vibration sources that include the M40 Motorway, nine miles to the east.

  • Project Details
  • Did you know?

Project Summary

Project Team

Architect: Hawkins\Brown
Main Contractor: Laing O’Rourke
Project Manager: WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff
Cost Consultant: Turner & Townsend
M&E Engineer: Hoare Lea
Structural Engineer: Peter Brett Associates
Acoustic Consultant: Hoare Lea
Sustainability Engineer: Hoare Lea
Landscape Architect: BD Landscape
CDM Consultant: Scott White & Hookins
External artwork © Bridget Smith, courtesy the artist and Frith Street Gallery, London


  • CIBSE Building Performance Awards 2021 - Project of the Year – Public Use - Shortlisted
  • Frame Awards 2019 - Learning Space of the Year - Longlisted
  • Oxford Preservation Trust Awards 2019 - New Building - Winner
  • FX International Design Awards 2019 - Workspace Environment (Small) - Winner
  • Blueprint Awards 2019 - Best Public-Use Project With Public Funding - Shortlisted
  • Constructing Excellence SECBE Awards 2019 - Integration & Collaborative Working - Winner
  • RIBA Awards 2019 - National Award - Winner
  • AJ100 Awards 2019 - Building of the Year - Shortlisted
  • S-Lab Awards 2019 - Chemistry and Physical Science Buildings - Winner
  • Oxfordshire Property Awards 2019 - Project of the Year - Winner
  • RIBA South Awards 2019 - Regional Award & Building of the Year - Winner

Did you know?

Theoretical physicists still work using traditional blackboards and chalk. In fact many of them are quite particular about the hardness of the board and the specifics of the chalk! Blackboards feature throughout the building in individual offices and form double height, curved writing surfaces within the collaborative atrium.

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