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Project Focus

Sainsbury Laboratory

Last year's prestigious Stirling prize went to Sainsbury Laboratory, an £82m plant research centre at the University of Cambridge.

The stunning, two-storey laboratory sits on the edge of the University of Cambridge's botanic gardens. Funded by Lord Sainsbury, the site provides state-of-the-art facilities for 120 botanists researching plant development.

Judges applauded the "calm beauty" of the laboratory, designed by Stanton Williams. The overall aesthetic, layout and choice of materials really do bring about a sense of peace. Stanton Williams specified Sto to achieve two key requirements:

  1. Performance Although beautiful, the smooth, reflective choice of materials throughout the project creates significant acoustic reverberation. This is entirely counterproductive to a calm and healthy working environment, and would have undermined the entire project. An acoustic solution was necessary to reduce reverberation times and restore a sense of tranquillity.
  2. Beauty The acoustic solution had to be in-keeping with the monolithic yet calm, airy aesthetic. It also had to maintain the high material quality standards demonstrated across the entire project.

The layout has been orchestrated to instigate scientists naturally bumping into one another during the day and discussing their progress. It is hoped that this will spark collaborative efforts and the odd "EUREKA!" moment. The specification of Sto helped here too, as speech legibility is clear and sharp, despite the reflective surfaces.

In an interview with the BBC, Stirling Prize judge Joanna van Heyningen described it as an "extraordinarily good building." The researchers "…deserve the best possible space in which to work, and that's what they've been given… It's a completely sublime building with the most extraordinary, beautifully designed natural light…" she added.

Winner of the £20,000 prize, Stanton Williams was the only practice to have three projects entered this year.

Stirling Prize 2012 Shortlist

  • Sainsbury Laboratory, Cambridge, designed by architects Stanton Williams
  • Hepworth Wakefield art gallery, by David Chipperfield Architects
  • London Olympic Stadium, by Populous
  • Lyric Theatre, Belfast, by O'Donnell and Tuomey
  • Maggie's Centre, Glasgow, by OMA
  • New Court, London, by OMA with Allies and Morrison

Photo Gallery

Sainsbury Laboratory Sainsbury Laboratory Sainsbury Laboratory
Name: Sainsbury Laboratory, Cambridge
Category: Education, Laboratory
Sto products: StoSilent Acoustic System
Architect: Stanton Williams
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