The Sainsbury Laboratory, a major new plant science research centre in Cambridge by architects Stanton Williams, has won the coveted RIBA
Stirling Prize 2012 for the best building of the year.
Now in its 17th 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. The presentation of the RIBA Stirling Prize trophy and £20,000 to Stanton Williams architects took place at a special ceremony this evening (Saturday 13 October) in Manchester, hosted by BBC Radio 4's Mark Lawson.
This is the first time that Stanton Williams has won or been shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize. With the Sainsbury Laboratory they have achieved world-class architecture for world-class science. Set within the University of Cambridge Botanic Gardens the low-rise, collonaded stone and glass building is carefully designed to complement its Grade II listed garden setting. The architects have created an exceptionally stimulating work environment, reinterpreting the tradition of the monastic cloister and collegiate court to create spaces for reflection, debate and collaboration amongst scientists. Next to the laboratory spaces, the architects have designed a stylish new public garden café.
The RIBA Stirling Prize judges said: The Sainsbury Laboratory is a timeless piece of architecture, sitting within a highly sensitive site, one overlooking the woods where Darwin walked with his tutor and mentor Henslow, discussing the origin of species. In this project Stanton Williams and their landscape architects have created a new landscape, a courtyard which flows out into the botanical gardens. The project is both highly particular and specialised, and at the same time a universal building type, taken to an extraordinary degree of sophistication and beauty.
The project seems simple, and this hides the fact that it was a hugely difficult building to achieve. It needed to provide flexibility for future changes in scientific practice, and it has achieved this brilliantly. The building had to balance openness with stringent requirements for security, which was done by placing the laboratories on the first floor, together with their own meeting places. Public access is on the ground floor in the form of a lecture theatre and meeting rooms, and, importantly, there is a charming café open to the public, which sits between the gardens and the labs private courtyard, and from which one can watch the goings-on within. This forms the buffer between the private and public zones.
The building uses fine materials expertly detailed; and beautifully integrates works of art commissioned from Susanna Herron, William Pye and Norman Ackroyd. The projects profound sustainability is impressive, not only in terms of its excellent energy performance but also in terms of its long term flexibility and adaptability.