Sainsbury Laboratory Stirling Prize
by David Owen
A stately temple of science has recently been added to the University of Cambridge campus. The limestone-clad Sainsbury Laboratory, a major plant science research center in Cambridge, England, has received the Stirling Prize for 2012 from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
Rooted in Darwin's Garden
Designed by Stanton Williams, the Sainsbury Laboratory is an 11,000-square-meter (120,000-square-foot) BREEAM Excellent-rated facility set in the University of Cambridge Botanic Garden, a Grade-II listed historic place conceived by Charles Darwin's mentor, Professor John Henslow, for cataloging plant species.
Sensitive integration of the new building with this site was a crucial design goal. To hold down the building's height, the lowest of its three stories is entirely underground. With the site's gradual slope, the ground floor is also set partly below grade, creating a solid base to support the prominent top floor.
This distinction between floors also reflects the building's programmatic composition, with the laboratory spaces literally and metaphorically elevated, and wrapped in a limestone colonnade.
The building's plan is also designed to nest elegantly within the garden's circulation pattern. On the north side, the building's solid base gives way to glazing and pulls back from the floor above, forming a sheltered and transparent main entrance. This serves as the starting point for a path that leads through the building and out into the garden.
Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...