A building of hidden depths

Monday 31 Oct 2011

Each floor in this research facility references geological strata and Klee's colour theories

How should the inside of a state-of-the-art research facility look? Should form follow function to create a slick 'tech machine' in which precise and complicated experiments are carried out? Or should it be a warm and homely environment that will encourage conversations and social interaction between researchers working long hours?

The brief from the client was for a creative, interactive building that reflected the changing nature of scientific investigation. New Biochemistry was designed to be a transparent building which allowed views directly into the laboratories. Positioning the labs on the outside of the building allowed the write-up areas to become part of the homely social atrium area.

The choice of colours for the external glass fins was strongly influenced by the immediate context of listed historic buildings. The materials of the surrounding historic buildings informed the choice of colours: the yellow/beige of Cotswold ironstone, the beiges and terracottas of brick and the plums and mauves of the tiles of Keble College. Using a series of translucent proprietary films, samples of the possible colours were prototyped by the cladding subcontractor, Structal.

In the end, the final combination and rhythm of colours was influenced by the Bauhaus artist Paul Klee's theories, so that it is as if each elevation were a piece of music to which a person could walk in time round the building.

The science corridor has its own unique colour on each floor that comes to life at night, when seen from outside. Each floor has a colour that refers back to the geological strata that were excavated during the construction period. A cool grey at basement level rising up through warmer greys/buffs, sandy colours and then plums/purples on the third floor. This is seen to best effect when the setting sun casts coloured shadows across the science corridor into the laboratories.

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