Beecroft Building Oxford University

Everyone in architecture or space design is aware of the stunning 8,950sqm Beecroft Physics building at Oxford University, named for Adrian Beecroft, the venture capitalist, one of the major donors for the project.

The Beecroft building is unquestionably a masterpiece of architectural design but, as recognised in the 2019 RIBA awards, it is also a building that goes “beyond architecture” to become a living, breathing, ecosystem of thinking and collaboration.

Professor John Wheater spoke of his vision for the building, explaining that there was a need for a building that allowed “space for people to work in a modern way”. He goes on to explain that “One of the basic criteria for this very interactive building was for researchers to be able to see when there were groups of people sitting around talking about science.”

With an aim to provide spaces that promoted spontaneous collaboration and sharing between physicists, the Beecroft building incorporates large curved chalkboards on collaborative mezzanine discussion areas between floors, constructed from Sundeala VES Chalkboard surface laminated directly to the substrate to ensure the boards are able to sustain a lifetime of daily use.

Professor Wheater does note that while the collaboration spaces were immediately popular with younger scientists, it took the older scientists longer to utilise the areas. Nevertheless, groups of all ages are now using the space enthusiastically, demonstrating that ‘modern’ space design has omnigenerational benefits.

Image Credit: Jack Hobhouse

Due to the building height restrictions of central Oxford which dictate a building may not be more than 18m in height, the Beecroft building reaches 16m underground with four floors of experimental physics laboratory space balanced perfectly on a system of hydraulics to dampen vibrations to ‘the width of a few atoms’ (i). The laboratories are temperature controlled to within a tenth of a degree and are intended to house extremely sensitive atomic-level experimentation.

While theoretical physicists are renowned for their love of chalk surfaces to write and explore ideas, dust particles from chalk preclude this in experimental physics spaces. It is, however, interesting to note that, even in this most cutting edge technological environment, the humble writing surface was still specified into the core design of the building.

Sundeala vitreous enameled steel whiteboards are fitted throughout the four floors of experimental physics laboratories, not only due to their market-leading quality but also for their lifetime surface guarantee. Once the laboratories were in use, the avoidance of any construction or maintenance that could disrupt the sensitive experiments is key.

Writing surfaces inherently foster collaboration. Displaying ideas, thoughts and data in a way that anyone can add their thoughts and extend the ideas at a second’s notice without having to connect digital technologies means that collaborations can evolve over days and weeks, between dozens of individuals.

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