Part of the University of Oxford’s Science Area, Biochemistry’s 26,000sqm space is set over four floors and two basement levels. Home to the Kavli Institute for Nanoscience Discovery, housing more than 400 students, post-doctorates and research staff, combining structural biology and world-leading biochemistry, pathology, chemistry, physics, physiology and engineering.

The Biochemistry research facility holds some of the most cutting-edge technical equipment in the UK, such as three cryo-EM microscopes, allowing researchers to image frozen specimens’ cellular structures, viruses and proteins at molecular resolution.

What we did

After the scheme’s Phase 1 Building was completed in 2008, Pell Frischmann’s Structural, Civil and Geotechnical Engineering Teams were appointed to Phase 2 with Hawkins Brown, Hoare Lea and AECOM in 2017, we were novated to our partner Laing O’Rourke in 2019.

The scheme is set in a confined location within the University’s Science Area; Pell Frischmann’s brief was: To provide an adaptable structure capable of integrating the building services and supporting the specialist laboratory equipment, to achieve seamless integration with the Phase 1 building and minimise the impact of the development to both the ongoing operation of the University campus and the environment.

Biochemistry Laboratory - Oxford University

Working with the University of Oxford, our teams developed a design that provided the adaptability of use the University required whilst avoiding the over-provision and inefficiency of redundant capacity. A medium-span. column-free structure with flat soffits to allow unobstructed distribution of services and future adaptability was developed. Whilst providing the adaptability, the brief demanded this solution does achieve the stringent limits to dynamic behaviour required by the sensitive laboratory equipment. To prove the dynamic response was acceptable, finite element analysis considering footfall induced vibration was undertaken.

The challenge for this congested site was to develop a design that enabled offsite methods of construction suitable for dynamically sensitive laboratories. To mitigate effects, the Engineering team developed a low impact basement construction, reducing ground vibration using CFA piles for the embedded retaining wall and a piled raft to reduce site congestion. The hybrid reinforced concrete frame’s embodied carbon was minimised through lean design and careful specification of cement replacement materials and adopted a Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) approach utilising pre-cast horizontal and vertical elements removing site waste, also benefiting logistics, quality and programme.

Biochemistry’s façade has been carefully considered; the coloured glass fins act as a sustainable feature as much as an aesthetic function, projecting colours on its streets at night. Its protruding glass features reflect sunlight into the building throughout the day, dramatically reducing energy use.


In a city bursting with historic and Listed buildings, Biochemistry has been recognised as a new model for modern research centres across the UK. It is as functional as it is aesthetically beautiful and sustainable; the open-plan laboratories and collaborative workspace across the building enables researchers, lecturers and students to perform to their optimum.

The need for scientific expansion is increasing in society, and the new Biochemistry research facility is part of a unique institution that will accommodate the world’s best students and researchers.

Jonathan Childs, Pell Frischmann’s Buildings Sector Director:

Pell Frischmann is honoured to be part of the team, working with the University of Oxford, to complete this state-of-the-art research facility that completes the existing biochemistry building and will enable integration of the university’s science departments. The project, constrained by the existing University campus, has greatly benefited from the effective use of Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) to create a hybrid pre-cast / insitu concrete frame that provides flexible efficient collaborative space, topped out ahead of programme.

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To find out more about Biochemistry, please contact us through our form here.

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