AstraZeneca’s Strategic Research & Development Centre and Global Corporate Headquarters
Cambridge, UK
Competition 2013, project 2013-

AstraZeneca is establishing a new Strategic Research & Development (R&D) Centre and Global Corporate Headquarters in Cambridge, UK, on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus (CBC). As part of the wider development known as the Cambridge Southern Fringe Area, CBC is envisioned as a future leading centre for biomedical research and development with institutions and companies from the education, health care, science and research sectors. The Global R&D Centre is located in the middle of the CBC. This central location reflects AZ’s ambition to be a key point of exchange and collaboration in the CBC community, building on its many existing collaborations with members of the Cambridge Life Science community including the University of Cambridge, the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK. The architecture supports this drive and makes it visible with a porous building that is accessible from three different sides. The new site will bring AstraZeneca scientists together with those from its global biologics R&D arm, MedImmune, working side-by-side under one roof. The plans for the first phase of the new campus include designs for the Strategic Research & Development (R&D) Centre and Global Corporate Headquarters, an R&D Enabling Building and an Energy Centre.


The new building for AstraZeneca’s Strategic Research & Development (R&D) Centre and Global Corporate Headquarters is a triangular glass disc with rounded edges that loosely follows the shape of the site. The disc is defined by a saw-tooth roof that runs East to West to provide optimal light inside the building. The saw-tooth roof carries on through to the facade creating a tighter and larger zig-zag line along the facade. The hovering glass disc with saw-tooth roof and stepped facade gives the building its characteristic appearance.


The disc sits on six rectangular glass boxes grouped in three pairs. They form an open courtyard, a traditional typology element of the Cambridge colleges. In combination with the low-rise building structure, the design is referencing the historical colleges in central Cambridge. The courtyard is the central point of the site, a meeting point, openly accessible from three different sides.


The rectangular glass boxes run vertically through all floors and house the main programmatic element of the building, the laboratories. They will allow multiple science groups to work alongside each other. The glazed perimeters of the above ground blocks promote maximum transparency across the floor and through the building, making science visible for all staff and visitors.


The office space is an open plan layout. Along with traditional desk and office space, the building will offer staff a range of alternative workplace settings from private study spaces and quiet booths to informal collaboration spaces. In contrast to the traditional idea of fixed individual desks, the basic unit of the desk-based workspaces is the ‘island desk’, wherein multiple users share single, large tables laid out as a series of islands within the open plan area. Along the rings, the main circulation spaces around the courtyard on the upper floors, there are additional complementary zones providing a range of diverse spaces and arrangements for exchange and informal meetings.


All the amenities – conference centre, auditorium, café and restaurant – are concentrated on the ground floor with direct access from the main entrance to make them equally accessible for the entire building.


The diversity of materials is kept minimal to make the distinction between the different areas very simple and clear. The floor materials reflect the functional organisation of the building: natural stone for the entrances, rough sawn solid oak for main stairs and ring area and carpet for the offices and write-up floors. The floor in the laboratories is continuous white vinyl finish. The main partitions within the building are made out of glass, running from floor to ceiling and allowing transparency and seamless transitions between the diverse areas. The other material of choice is exposed concrete, revealing the construction method and structural function while complementing glass and wood.


The functional diversity and the low rise of AstraZeneca’s R&D Centre allow each floor to be specific and different from each other. The underground will contain support facilities, loading area and plant zone; the street level is open and porous with both amenities and science on display in the laboratories; the first floor of the disc is connected through the ring area and the second disc floor is top lit through the skylight of the saw-tooth roof. Despite the distinct work environments of the floors, the building appears as one characteristic structure serving as a pivotal point for the CBC campus as a whole.

Herzog & de Meuron, 2017


Luis Fernández-Galiano (Ed.):  Arquitectura Viva Monografias. Herzog & de Meuron 2013-2017.

Vol. No. 191-192, Madrid, Arquitectura Viva SL, 12.2016.