Sainsbury Laboratory

Status: 2010
Location: Cambridge

Client: University of Cambridge
Value: £82.0m


“This is one of the most exciting projects with which my Charitable Foundation has been involved. It combines an inspirational research programme, an historic site in the Botanic Garden and a beautiful laboratory designed by Stanton Williams, and I believe it will become a worldclass centre of excellent plant science.”Lord Sainsbury


“One of the ways that Stanton Williams really distinguished themselves was that they dedicated quite a long time to understanding what their remit was, what the building had to be. And they also took time to look at the site. And when they had digested those issues, that was then they started sketching out general ideas. They shot up in my estimation because of that. They really listened.”Roger Freedman, Gatsby Charitable Foundation Chief Scientific Advisor to the Sainsbury Laboratory


“I’m delighted that the Sainsbury Laboratory has received the prestigious Stirling Prize. It’s testimant to the excellent design skills of the architects Stanton Williams and truly reflects the support they received from the entire project team.”Michael Bienias, Director of Estate Management for the University of Cambridge


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.

Watch an inteview with the architects on YouTube

New Book: The Sainsbury Laboratory: Science, Architecture, Art


2013 Nominated for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture Mies van der Rohe Award
2012 RIBA Stirling Prize
2012 RIBA Award
2012 RIBA East Building of the Year Award
2012 LABC Award, Best Educational Building
2012 RICS Award, Highly Commended in Design and Innovation category
2012 Civic Trust Award
2012 Lighting Design Award
2012 Highly Commended, Natural Stone Awards
2011 World Learning Building of the Year WAF Award
2011 Concrete Society Award, Overall winner
2011 David Urwin Design Award Best New Building, Commended
2011 Construction News Award, Highly Commended
2011 British Construction Industry Award, Highly Commended


Funder: The Gatsby Charitable Foundation
Strategic Project Manager: Stuart A. Johnson Consulting Ltd
Project and Contract Administrator: Hannah – Reed
Project Officer: University of Cambridge Estate Management
Representative Users: Cambridge University Botanic Garden,
The Gatsby Charitable Foundation
Main Contractor: Kier Regional
Civil and Structural Engineer: Adams Kara Taylor
Building Services Engineer: Arup
Cost Consultant: Gardiner & Theobald
Landscape Architects: Christopher Bradley-Hole Landscape and Schoenaich Landscape Architects
CDM Coordinator: Hannah – Reed
Approved Building Inspector: Cambridge City Council
Artists: Norman Ackroyd, Susanna Heron, William Pye
Arts Consultants: Insite Arts
Furniture Consultant: Luke Hughes and Company
Photography: Hufton+Crow
Film: Gary Vernon-Collier with music by Jeremy Holland-Smith