University of Oxford: Department of Earth Sciences

Oxford, UK

Located on South Parks Road in a sensitive context, this new building for the University of Oxford's Department of Earth Sciences has not only been designed to meet the academic requirements of the department, but also to signal to the wider public the interests and concerns of the users. This is achieved through a distinctive narrative wall, which is formed of horizontal bands of limestone carefully selected by geologists in the Department.

This gives the building a strong geological 'identity' but also acts as a teaching aid and organisational device, dividing the stone-clad laboratory wing from the glazed office wing.


Integrated into the building is the specialist infrastructure required for ultra-clean geochemistry laboratories, experimental petrology and large computational facilities, alongside more generic spaces for write-up and relaxation.

Integrated into the building is the specialist infrastructure required for ultra-clean geochemistry laboratories, experimental petrology and large computational facilities, alongside more generic spaces for write-up and relaxation. Internally the building is structured around a simple relationship diagram of laboratory wing and office wing, divided by the narrative wall and with an atrium acting as a hinge between. The laboratory wing has four floors of laboratory space, flexibly planned to allow research groups to expand and contract in response to changing research avenues and funding and includes a series of specialist research spaces including metal-free labs for geochemistry – which at 345m² are the largest suite of their kind in the world.

The second floor was designed with removable windows, so that a particularly large mass spectrometer could be craned into position after the building was completed. The ground floor contains undergraduate teaching and common areas, a library, lecture theatre and display space, while the senior common room is located on the top floor. This has views over central Oxford from its roof terrace, and is regarded as essential in encouraging interaction and interdisciplinary exchange of ideas amongst the staff.