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Schlumberger Research Centre
Madingley Road, Cambridge
Schlumberger Research Centre
associated engineer
Anthony Hunt Associates
Anthony Hunt
Ove Arup & Partners
date  1982 - 1985, 1990 - 1992
era  Modern  |  category  Building  |  reference  TL422591
photo  courtesy Anthony Hunt
A research facility for the oil-exploration industry, housing a simulated drilling rig plus laboratories and offices. The impressive translucent tented roof was the largest of its type at the time of construction.
The centre was built in two phases. The test station came first and was completed in 1985. For the unimpeded operation of the equipment planned for it, a minimun height of 10m and a clear span (no columns) were required. This part of the building consists of three 24m x 18m bays under the landmark tented roof. The working test area uses two of these bays. The third houses a wintergarden and refectory.
Flanking the three tented bays are a series of cabins, five each side. They are 18m long and 12m wide. External tubular steel columns and steel trusses support their flat roofs and glazed walls. The placement of the steel structure on the outside enabled the engineers to satisfy the fire resistance regulations, since they could count the building fabric as protection for the steelwork should fire break out inside the building. This technique had been introduced by Ove Arup & Partners in the fire engineering for the panels of another building by architect Michael Hopkins, the Patera Building (1980).
The spectacular tented roof, gleaming white by day and glowing at night, stands independent of the main structure. It is made of Teflon-coated fabric, which has a life expectancy of 30 years, and is supported by its own tension structure of cables and rods. Arups are credited with the fabric and cable design.
Prismatic portal frame trusses form a valley and continuous mounting anchorage for the tented roof. They also support the twin struts that direct the tension rods and enable a connection with the ground outside the line of the office cabins.
The administration block, completed in 1992, represents the second phase of work. The architect and engineers changed their approach for this building. It consists of two wings, square in plan separated by a double-height atrium. A coffered concrete fire-resistant slab at first floor level is used to support a column and beam structural system that in turn supports the flat roof. The 3.6m x 3.6m structural grid, expressed in the perimeter glazing, repeats the proportions of the cabins built in the first phase.
The atrium houses the reception area for the building. Its inflated, translucent roof presents yet another technological advance.
Architect: Michael Hopkins & Partners
Project engineer: Alan Jones
Quantity surveyor: White & Turner
Services engineer: YRM Engineers
Research: ND

Schlumberger Research Centre