A Meeting Place
of the Minds

“ The Life Sciences Building enhances our Highfield Campus and makes a clear statement about how we are delivering 21st-century science in a sustainable and inspiring physical environment. ”

Kevin Monaghan Director of Estates & Facilities

The University of Southampton has long had a reputation for bringing together some of the best minds in science, but its 1970s-era facility on the Boldrewood campus was outdated, too expensive to operate, and a liability as a safe working environment. NBBJ partnered with the university to create a world-leading center for cross-disciplinary research, learning and innovation — with the goal of finding solutions to common human health and environmental challenges. NBBJ rose to the challenge and designed a modern, purpose-designed building on the Main Highfield campus as the new home for the Schools of Medicine and Biological Sciences and the Institute for Life Sciences (ifLS).

The ifLS reflects a growing migration among top universities toward “convergence,” a broad rethinking of how all scientific research can be conducted to capitalize on a range of knowledge bases, from microbiology to computer science to engineering design. The new Life Sciences Building (LSB) facilitates the fusion of expertise in education and research from a range of disciplines and fosters cross-disciplinary and synergistic research within departments that had been traditionally siloed.

The design was driven by a rigorous functional program and a highly constrained site at the campus edge. Functional and spatial requirements for teaching and learning and specialized biomedical research, and the relationship between offices and laboratories, were key drivers in the design of the overall layout. Horizontal stratification locates teaching space at lower levels and research above, and the provision of a modular generic lab block is complemented by a specialized research core. Externally, the organic plan form responds to the constricted and irregular site. The volume is maximized towards the east to accommodate steeply sloping topography while providing an elegant set-back from the nearby college building.

Once completed, the award-winning quality of the building prompted clearance of a redundant structure in order to open up the view from Library Square and allow the LSB to make a significant and striking urban contribution to the campus.

Convergence by Design
Convergence By Design
Convergence By Design

The Learning Hub

Breakthrough solutions to problems related to human health and environmental issues will be found in the life sciences, and Southampton’s Life Sciences Building facilitates the fusion of expertise in education and research from a range of disciplines.

Teaching and research is seamlessly integrated in one collaborative environment. The teaching areas are located at the base of a triangular atrium while research laboratories wrap around two sides at upper floor level, across from write-up and office “terraces” that are accessed via bridges. Offices are shared over three levels and adjacent research laboratories over two; the “split levels” ensure travel distances between offices and labs are short and provide good visual connectivity between the two.

Serving a Higher Purpose

“Its stunning façade, together with a newly landscaped pedestrian approach, creates a striking vista when viewed from Library Square.”

— Helen Harley, University of Southampton, October 2010

The design utilizes Western Red Cedar timber as the primary exterior material and as a pre-fabricated cladding system. This wraps both offices and laboratories — a singular approach that makes the building easily identifiable on campus and allowed the system to be developed and tested in greater detail than would have been if a range of façade materials was proposed.

Place Making

The lightwell drives the natural ventilation and links laboratories, offices and teaching space. Widened circulation and the set-back of office terraces provides legibility and opportunities for scientific interaction and creates an exciting, dynamic feel to the building. At the top floor, a roof-top observatory provides high-quality meeting and social space with spectacular views over the city towards the sea.


The upper levels of the building are defined by a band of vertical Western Red Cedar, board-on-board cladding that wraps the research laboratories and offices. Within this timber band, vertical slots create windows to the internal spaces with external timber louvres angled to avoid direct sunlight at peak times. The solution provides a sustainable, durable and low-maintenance façade that ages well and gives a dramatic and distinctive look as it wraps around the building’s sinuous shape.

To prevent the facade from greying and weathering to different degrees, the timber is treated with a micro-porous, UV-protection stain. This significantly slows natural ageing by protecting the timber from the influences of water and UV light, and lengthens the duration of the warm timber appearance. Prefabrication made it possible to use hidden fixings mounted behind the cladding, eliminating metal staining on the façade. An alternating band of bamboo acoustic panels and colored glass continue the external cladding theme in the interior. The band runs along the west and north side of the central light well where the ratio of glass to timber shifts and becomes predominantly glass.

The building maximizes passive design measures of orientation, shading, super-insulation and exposed thermal mass. A mixed-mode ventilation system with automated and user operated windows uses the lightwell as a solar stack and mechanical assistance with heat recovery for peak conditions. Renewables included a biomass boiler and rainwater is attenuated using SUDS. The façade timber system was prefabricated off- site and the building uses low energy lighting throughout.


Awards and Publications


RIBA Award, South Region


Architecture Today, "NBBJ: Life Sciences Building, the University of Southampton," February 2011