University of Oxford Biochemistry Phase 2 \

Reimagining New Biochemistry

Multi-disciplinary research facilities, accommodated within an extension to our award winning New Biochemistry building, completed in 2008. 

In 2008 the New Biochemistry building was completed. It was the first phase of a larger combined building, for which planning was gained in 2006. The department moved in, the combined team won a number of awards and we got some great feedback about the building. It was expected that the second phase would follow closely after Phase 1, but ten years on we are finally realising the complete project. While the envelope has to remain aesthetically continuous, the internal plan layout has changed substantially and working on the project has been the equivalent of an extended Post Occupancy Evaluation.

The Challenge

Scientific practice has changed substantially since the completion of New Biochemistry, and Hawkins\Brown has also developed an extensive portfolio of work, from which we can take lessons learnt. We have used this experience  to define an internal layout that works for a number of scientific disciplines. It is designed to be generic and adaptable in the future to give the building occupants flexibility in how they organise themselves from day one and in the future.

The Big Idea

To increase the density of the general wet lab areas and the support space available, we have flipped the typical Phase 1 floorplan. Generic labs and shared equipment spaces are now central to the deep plan. While the lab areas are largely artificially lit, the write up areas benefit from natural daylight at the perimeter of the building. Some write up areas are still open to the atrium, continuing the architectural rhythm and collaborative attitude fostered by the Phase 1 arrangement.

The Small Detail

There are highly specific technical spaces as well as generic research spaces. These include a suite of three Cryo-EM microscopes with the basement that operate within tight vibration and temperature tolerances and have also required the local dropping of the floorslab due to their height.

Working From The Inside Out

The project builds on the principles of interior design that were established for Phase 1. The colour palette developed for New Biochemistry has been used to generate a corresponding palette for the second phase, while the principle of different lighting temperatures for laboratory and collaborative spaces  is also continued. A challenge will be matching finishes that are ten years old. 

  • Project Details
  • Sustainability
  • Lessons Learnt
  • Under Construction

Project Summary

Project Team

M&E: Hoare Lea
Structures: Pell Frischmann
Project Management: CPC
Acoustics: Sandy Brown
Sustainability: Hoare Lea


New Biochemistry was designed when there was no standard BREEAM form for laboratory buildings and therefore not required. Several sustainable features were included, such as PVs integrated into the rooflight, rainwater harvesting, natural ventilation of the atrium using the stack effect, shading to south facing spaces using artworks and highly efficient laboratory VAV air supply systems. The energy use of New Biochemistry was optimised during a Post Occupancy Evaluation process, and lessons have been learnt from this process have informed the Phase 2 design.

Although BREEAM Excellent was the initial requirement for the Phase 2 project, a study was done on the payback of the credits required to reach this target versus re-investing the capital cost. The decision was taken to target Very Good and instead focus on paying for systems that would reduce the overall energy use of the building.

A Passivhaus study has also been done on the project to research how the standard would have affected the design decisions made on the project. It has been an interesting process as we have worked with the Passivhaus Institut to establish a set of targets that are tailored to the high equipment load of the project. A clear line of separation between laboratory and write up areas has been employed, which means the write up areas are actually acting passively, due to their perimeter location. Other aspects of the design such as the inclusion of triple glazing and enhancement of air tightness, and although the Passivhaus standard would require these to achieve the comfort criteria, they show negligible payback on energy use.

We are currently achieving a 30% improvement on Part L 2013, despite using an envelope design that was developed over ten years ago. This has been achieved by integrating lessons from the Passivhaus study, pushing the envelope detailing and integrating lessons learnt from Phase 1 on the management of energy within the laboratory areas. An extensive rooftop PV array has also been proposed.

Lessons Learnt

Benchmarking process undertaken for this project led to the development of the HE Briefing Tool.

Under Construction

The project is currently programmed to start construction by the summer 2018.

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