NBBJ Unveils Design of the new Life and Mind Building at the University of Oxford

The University of Oxford and internationally-renowned architecture practice NBBJ have unveiled the design of the new home for the Departments of Experimental Psychology and Biology, including Plant Sciences and Zoology. Situated between Oxford’s listed University Parks, the Science Area and its historic town centre, the building will transform the relationships between the psychological and biological sciences by enabling co-location and promoting collaboration in emergent fields.

With a project cost of £202m and a gross internal area of 25,000m2, the building will be home to 800 students and 1,200 researchers.

Engaging research departments, collaborators, the public and industry, the new Life and Mind Building will be able to target critical Global Impact Themes:

  • Living with biodiversity
  • Thriving on a healthy planet
  • Conflict and cooperation
  • Nature-based solutions

It further aims to enable the positive transformation of the Science Area through widening engagement with the public, policy makers, and other end users of research.

Modern science is becoming increasingly collaborative and NBBJ’s design provides an inviting space to support innovative thinking and multi-disciplinary communication between students and researchers with different specialisms.

The design promotes engagement between the fields of research and education, taking advantage of the efficiencies and flexibility a shared building can offer. Large parts of the building have been designed to suit multiple laboratory types beyond the day one needs, allowing it to flex, adapt and reconfigure to respond over time to the changing needs of the dynamic science. For example, demand for simulation focused dry-labs might increase over time within one area, while specialist growth and testing environments for plants need expanding elsewhere in the building.

The building provides space for teaching, flexible and specialist bio-science laboratories for research, as well as a wide range of cutting-edge testing spaces for volunteers participating in research into human behaviour, perception, development and mental health. Shielded rooms allow electroencephalograms (EEG) to track and record brainwave patterns, aimed at understanding and finding problems related to electrical activity of the brain. Eye tracking and Retinal Scanner facilities research function and impact of vision, whilst an audio booth, a multisensory kitchen, group testing spaces, VR and motor lab, and sleep laboratory will allow participants of all ages, healthy or neuro-diverse, to volunteer in ground-breaking research.

There are two main blocks linked by a terraced atrium: a highly adaptable multifunctional ‘flex’ block, suitable throughout for laboratories as well as office space, and a terraced office wing which optimises access to views, light and nature, suitable for dry-labs and collaborative work environments.

The atrium extends from a new public plaza connecting the two blocks across teaching and social levels below and research levels above. It provides a welcoming daylight-flooded space offering breakout areas for meetings, presentations and social events. It encourages people to connect, think, learn, innovate together and celebrate the work taking place within its walls.

The building is shaped to invite the public onto the site via a new plaza allowing views into and across the ground floor. The plaza provides space for events and separates the large building into two smaller volumes in keeping with the local context. Taking inspiration from the strong articulation of Oxford’s historic college buildings, facades will use reconstituted stone, punched widows and projecting buttresses to create a timeless but recognisable appearance that fits within the famous townscape.

Strongly focusing on the building’s silhouette, NBBJ used computational mapping tools to test the building’s contribution to Oxford’s unique skyline and protected view cones. Similar tools were also used to design to ambitious sustainability standards, testing the balance of solid insulated walls to windows that flood internal spaces with daylight, and the right amount of sun shading which includes an extensive PV-ready solar roof structure that further helps to articulate the roofline.

Taking advantage of its location the new Life and Mind Building will enhance the gateway to Oxford’s Science Area and create exciting opportunities for public and scientific engagement, extending from the public plaza, across the atrium moving up to extensive south facing roof terraces and a roof top restaurant and event space overlooking Oxford’s historic dreaming spires.

Professor Chris Kennard, the University of Oxford’s Senior Responsible Owner for the project, said: “For the past year we have worked closely with NBBJ and the project team to fully maximise this opportunity to create an outstanding building to house our world-class teaching and research Departments of Experimental Psychology and Biology, comprising Plant Sciences and Zoology. We are confident the design will herald an exciting new stage for these disciplines, bringing them together for the first time under one roof.”

Ingo Braun, Design Director at NBBJ London, said: “Following an immensely collaborative period of engagement with the departments and University, we are proud to have designed a light-filled, welcoming, and flexible space for staff and students which can be public-facing but also facilitate the world-class learning and scientific research the University is known for. The design will enhance the experience and wellbeing of the building’s many occupants and visitors, promoting retention and attraction of world class talent in life and mind research.”

Darius Umrigar, Science & Higher Education Director at NBBJ London, said: “The Life and Mind Building will house best-in-class research and teaching facilities, which underline the University of Oxford’s reputation as one of the leading academic institutions in the world.”

The new building will replace the existing Tinbergen Building, which closed in 2017. A public consultation event is scheduled for early June 2020, and a planning application will be made to Oxford City Council in July 2020.