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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

Sainsbury Laboratory in Cambridge, United Kingdom by Stanton Williams

November 16th, 2011 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: Stanton Williams

Stanton Williams wins World’s Best Learning Building at World Architecture Festival Awards 2011

Sainsbury Laboratory, United Kingdom, designed by Stanton Williams World’s Best Learning Building’ award at the prestigious World Architecture Festival (WAF) Awards 2011.

The presentation of the WAF Awards are taking place during the largest global celebration of architecture – the World Architecture Festival, which is being held at the Centre Convencions International Barcelona (CCIB) this week.


Main entrance at night (Images Courtesy Hufton and Crow)

  • Architect: Stanton Williams, London, United Kingdom
  • Name of Project: Sainsbury Laboratory
  • Location: Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • Category: Learning
  • WAF Entry: 2011
  • Award: World Architecture Festival 2011 – Category Winner

The Sainsbury Laboratory is an 11,000 sq.m. plant science research centre set in the University of Cambridge’s Botanic Garden, and brings together world-leading scientists in a working environment of the highest quality. The design reconciles complex scientific requirements with the need for a piece of architecture that also responds to its landscape setting.

The building was selected by a panel of esteemed architects and designers, beating off competition from a shortlist of 17 entries.


Cafe Terrace (Images Courtesy Hufton and Crow)

The jury commended the project, saying “This project connects building and landscape in a poetic and meaningful way. It is beautifully considered in terms of its human scale, and for activities for research and learning. The choice of materials display a profound tactile sense.” Speaking at the WAF Awards 2011 Paul Finch, WAF Programme Director, said: “The World Architecture Festival is the world’s largest, live, truly inclusive and interactive global architectural awards programme. Attracting entries from internationally renowned practices to small local architects, the stellar quality of this year’s designs demonstrates their commitment to designing the world’s most exciting buildings. This year we’ve attracted more entries than ever before, with over 700 submissions from 66 different countries. Our congratulations go to the winners for a truly accomplished project.”


Internal Street (Images Courtesy Hufton and Crow)

This is the 4th year the World Architecture Festival Awards have been presented, and by the end of the awards 38 WAF Awards will have been announced across the three main sections of Completed Buildings, Structural Design and Future Projects. The Festival culminates with the announcement of the prestigious ‘World Building of the Year 2011’ award.

Previous winners include ‘World Building of the Year 2008’ – Luigi Bocconi University, Milan, designed by Irish practice Grafton Architects; ‘World Building of the Year 2009’ – Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre in South Africa, designed by Peter Rich Architects of Johannesburg, and ‘World Building of the Year 2010’ – MAXXI (National Museum of the 21st Century Arts) in Rome, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects.


Internal Street and Dining Area (Images Courtesy Hufton and Crow)

The WAF Awards see unsung local buildings take on internationally acclaimed projects in what is the world’s biggest architecture contest. Unlike other architectural competitions, architects present their work in front of leading industry judges and a live public audience as they compete for the accolade of ‘World Building of the Year’.


Internal Street breakout spaces (Images Courtesy Hufton and Crow)

Project in Detail

The Sainsbury Laboratory Cambridge, an 11,000 sq.m. plant science research centre set in the University of Cambridge’s Botanic Garden, brings together world-leading scientists in a working environment of the highest quality. The design reconciles complex scientific requirements with the need for a piece of architecture that also responds to its landscape setting. It provides a collegial, stimulating environment for innovative research and collaboration. The building is situated within the private, ‘working’ part of the Garden, and houses research laboratories and their associated support areas. It also contains the University’s Herbarium, meeting rooms, an auditorium, social spaces, and upgraded ancillary areas for Botanic Garden staff, plus a new public café. The project was completed in December 2010.

Cambridge University Botanic Garden was conceived in 1831 by Charles Darwin’s guide and mentor, Professor Henslow, as a working research tool in which the diversity of plant species would be systematically ordered and catalogued. The Sainsbury Laboratory Cambridge develops Henslow’s agenda in seeking to advance understanding of how this diversity comes about. Its design was therefore shaped by the intention that the Laboratory’s architecture would express its integral relationship with the Garden beyond.

Laboratory (Images Courtesy Hufton and Crow)

The building as a whole is rooted in its setting. There are two storeys visible above ground and a further subterranean level, partly in order to ensure efficient environmental control, but also to reduce the height of the building. The overall effect is strongly horizontal as a result. Solidity is implied by the use of bands of limestone and exposed insitu concrete, recalling geological strata and indeed the Darwinian idea of evolution over time as well as the permanence which one might expect of a major research centre. At the same time, however, permeability and connections – both real and visual – between the building and the Garden have been central to its conception.

Lecture Theatre (Images Courtesy Hufton and Crow)

The building’s identity is established externally by the way in which it is expressed and experienced as a series of interlinked yet distinct volumes of differing height grouped around three sides of a central courtyard, the fourth side of which is made up of trees planted by Henslow in the nineteenth century. The internal circulation and communal areas focus upon this central court, opening into it at ground level and onto a raised terrace above in order to provide immediate physical connections between the Laboratory and its surroundings.

View into laboratory (Images Courtesy Hufton and Crow)

Further visual connections are created by the careful use of glazing in the building. At ground level, extensive windows provide views of the courtyard and the Garden beyond, allowing these internal areas to be read as integral elements of the outdoor landscape. The first floor is also largely glazed. Its windows are screened by narrow vertical bands of stone that imbue the elevation with a regular consistency, behind which the pattern of fenestration could potentially be altered in response to future requirements.

The brief was for a highly sustainable building. The Sainsbury Laboratory is a highly energy efficient laboratory building which has been designed for a long life, with a robust structure and a high level of adaptability for future needs. Efficient heating, cooling and ventilation systems, together with high levels of insulation and air-tightness in the facades and roof have enabled the building to significantly exceed emission targets set in Building Regulations and the energy rating targets for laboratory buildings. The building was awarded a BREEAM rating of Excellent.

Long Section

Technical aspects of the building’s sustainability are carefully integrated into the overall design rather than overtly expressed. Particular attention has been paid to maximising day lighting and to harvesting of rainwater for irrigation purposes. On site renewable energy is provided by 1000m2 of photovoltaic panels mounted on the roof of the laboratory, providing 10% of the building’s energy load.

Related to the conception of the building in terms of its landscape setting is the way that its internal areas are connected by a continuous route which recalls Darwin’s ‘thinking path’, a way to reconcile nature and thought through the activity of walking. Here the ‘thinking path’ functions as a space for reflection and debate. It is intended to promote encounters and interaction between the scientists working in the building, and between them and the landscape. With glazed windows facing the court on one side and internal windows offering glimpses of the laboratories on the other, it operates as a transitional zone between the top-lit working areas at the centre of the building and the Botanic Garden itself.

Floor Plans

In this respect, the ‘path’ reinterprets the tradition of the Greek stoa, the monastic cloister, and the collegiate court, all of which were intended to some extent as semi-outdoor spaces for contemplation and meetings. As a result, past, present, and future are connected. The work of the laboratories will seek to understand the plant diversity that is glorified by the arrangement of the historic Botanic Garden in which it is set and which, though pleasant to visit, continues to function as a working space devoted to groundbreaking research.

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Category: Laboratory and Office

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