Many members of the Division will be aware that the replacement for the Hans Krebs Tower in South Parks Road ("Biochemistry Phase 2") is underway. But fewer know the details of the project.
This is Oxford's biggest capital project to date and it will provide the second half of the new Biochemistry building, abolishing at last the notorious black plastic sheeting that covers the east end of the current building. It will also fill the only major empty site in South Parks Road. Housing about 550 scientists across six floors, when complete it will be a seamless whole with Biochemistry, the largest building in the Science Area, and architecturally striking.
Scientifically, the building represents a radical departure for the South Parks Road campus, being the first interdisciplinary and interdepartmental institute in the Science Area. Its goal is to integrate the outstanding but often atomised work that is done in the basic science departments, in order to modernise our approach to research, and to retain our cutting edge. Excitingly, researchers in the building will work at the interface between biomedical and physical sciences, with a particular focus on understanding the fundamentals of diseases of the 21st century. Departments represented will include Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, Biochemistry, the Dunn School, Physics and Chemistry; it will also house the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute.
The project is currently at RIBA stage 4, which means that the detailed design is near completion, the main contractors Laing O'Rourke are identified, and ground will be broken this summer. If all goes to schedule, the building will be occupied in the summer of 2020.
One of the biggest challenges of the build itself is the nature of the site, hemmed in by other buildings, and with no clear adjacent space. A big build will always cause some local disruption, and the tight space makes this one more difficult than most. A major sub-project is currently underway between the builders, the architects and the University Estates team to minimise the inconvenience, but it's likely that almost everyone in South Parks Road will feel some effects. There is dedicated set of web pages where we will provide information and updates about the works, and all neighbouring heads of department and building managers are being kept informed.
One of the main reasons that Oxford's biomedicine is so strong is the pipeline that starts with the fundamental understanding of disease and ends with clinical advances. The Biochemistry Phase 2 project will ensure that our basic science, the foundation of future medical breakthroughs, remains truly world-class. It's a huge endorsement by the University of our Divisional strategy, and it will be fulfilling its potential for decades after the inevitable inconvenience of the next two years is forgotten.