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The Sainsbury Laboratory, 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 work of architecture that also responds to its landscape setting and provides a collegial, stimulating environment for innovative research and collaboration. The building comprises laboratories, support areas, and meeting spaces, together with the University’s Herbarium, new public café and seminar room. Central to the building’s identity is the way in which it is experienced as a sequence of spaces that are conceived in terms of their relationship with the surrounding Garden. The way in which the Laboratory’s different functions are connected by a continuous route recalls the ‘thinking path’ described by Charles Darwin (whose mentor, John Henslow, oversaw the laying out of the Botanic Garden), a way to reconcile nature and thought through the activity of walking.
Here the ‘thinking path’ is reinterpreted in the tradition of the monastic cloister or collegiate court as a space for reflection, debate and interaction that also enjoys good views of the Garden itself. In this respect, the solidity implied by the strata-like conception of the building (with alternate layers of stone and concrete) is balanced by a concern with permeability that is manifested in the expansive glazing to the ground and first floors and which reinforces the close relationship between the new Laboratory and the Garden which provides the fundamental raison d’etre for the research it will house.
In 2012, Stanton Williams' Sainsbury Laboratory Cambridge won the coveted RIBA Stirling Prize for the best building of the year. The RIBA Stirling Prize is the UK’s most prestigious architecture prize, awarded to the architects of the best new European building built or designed in the UK.