AstraZeneca’s Discovery Centre by Herzog & de Meuron features a saw-tooth roof

The porous, stepped glass facades of AstraZeneca's The Discovery Centre in Cambridge, UK, completed by Herzog & de Meuron, aims to make "science visible" to the public.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Jan 13, 2022

The sharply carved, crystalline building of AstraZeneca’s The Discovery Centre by Herzog & de Meuron emerges as an immediate landmark centred within the Cambridge Biomedical Campus (CBC) in Cambridge, UK, replete with stepped glass facades dressing a dynamic, plectrum shaped form with a saw-tooth roof. Unveiled late last year, the new headquarters for pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca is planned around a central courtyard, its serrated top running elegantly from east to west to ensure optimal natural light to foray inside the 54,000 sqm gross floor area spread across three floors and a subterranean level.

AstraZeneca’s The Discovery Centre has a plectrum shaped form with a saw-tooth roof | AstraZeneca’s The Discovery Centre (DISC) by Herzog & de Meuron | STIRworld
AstraZeneca’s The Discovery Centre has a plectrum shaped form with a saw-tooth roof Image: © Hufton+Crow

The outlined brief by AstraZeneca was to design an inviting building where science thrives, that kept at its core, scientific research, and display it to the world, rather than keeping it concealed and mysterious.

The zigzagging northlights of the roof extends vertically along the façade to bring natural light into the building | AstraZeneca’s The Discovery Centre (DISC) by Herzog & de Meuron | STIRworld
The zigzagging northlights of the roof extends vertically along the façade to bring natural light into the building Image: Courtesy of AstraZeneca

Best emulated as a hovering, triangular glass disc with rounded edges that gently heed to the site’s shape, The Discovery Centre’s characteristic dynamic appearance, a common thread running through the Swiss practice’s works, is fronted by the roof that carries on through to the façade to form a tighter and larger vertical zig-zag geometry. This, along with its low slung volume helps visually break down the massive scale of the facility, making it seem down to earth and unimposing. The interiors carry that elegance inside by embodying a modern, minimal material palette encompassing exposed concrete, solid oak, natural stone and a white resin floor finish for the labs.

  • Stepped vertical glass facades make the building porous and seem less intimidating in terms of scale | AstraZeneca’s The Discovery Centre (DISC) by Herzog & de Meuron | STIRworld
    Stepped vertical glass facades make the building porous and seem less intimidating in terms of scale Image: © Hufton+Crow
  • Façade detail | AstraZeneca’s The Discovery Centre (DISC) by Herzog & de Meuron | STIRworld
    Façade detail Image: © Hufton+Crow
  • The glass gives the centre a porous nature | AstraZeneca’s The Discovery Centre (DISC) by Herzog & de Meuron | STIRworld
    The glass gives the centre a porous nature Image: © Hufton+Crow

The 20m high research centre rests atop six rectangular glass boxes grouped in three pairs that are placed to form an open courtyard in the centre, which, in tandem with the low-rise structure, references the historical colleges in central Cambridge. According to the firm, the courtyard essays the central point of the site and is also congregational, openly accessible from three different sides. The rectangular glass boxes run vertically through all three floors above ground to host the main programme of the building, consolidated various research facilities and innovation laboratories, housing more than 2,000 scientists, as well as offices, meeting spaces, a conference centre, an auditorium, a café and a restaurant. These amenities have been placed on the ground floor with direct access from the main entrance, making them equally accessible for the entire institutional architecture.  

  • The central courtyard | AstraZeneca’s The Discovery Centre (DISC) by Herzog & de Meuron | STIRworld
    The central courtyard Image: David Porter
  • The upper floors of the building sit on six rectangular glass boxes grouped in three pairs | AstraZeneca’s The Discovery Centre (DISC) by Herzog & de Meuron | STIRworld
    The upper floors of the building sit on six rectangular glass boxes grouped in three pairs Image: © Hufton+Crow

These glazed perimeters of the boxes above ground make The Discovery Centre porous and permit multiple groups to work simultaneously, enhancing their collaborative process and “making science visible” for employees and visitors alike. This along with the accessible green courtyard is also an attempt to make such typologies seem less forbidding and strictly utilitarian, and open them up as much as possible, according to Herzog & de Meuron.

  • Inside the DISC | AstraZeneca’s The Discovery Centre (DISC) by Herzog & de Meuron | STIRworld
    Inside the DISC Image: © Hufton+Crow
  • The interiors have been kept as light and visually connected as possible | AstraZeneca’s The Discovery Centre (DISC) by Herzog & de Meuron | STIRworld
    The interiors have been kept as light and visually connected as possible Image: © Hufton+Crow

"The workspace is an open plan layout, offering employees a range of alternative workplace settings from private study spaces and quiet booths to informal employee collaboration spaces. Along the inner ring, the main circulation space around the courtyard on the upper floors, there are additional complementary zones providing a range of diverse spaces for exchange, informal meetings and on-floor catering," informs the design team.

The simple materiality of the centre’s interiors | AstraZeneca’s The Discovery Centre (DISC) by Herzog & de Meuron | STIRworld
The simple materiality of the centre’s interiors Image: © Hufton+Crow

To establish clarity between the various programmes, the material diversity is kept at a minimum. The floors reflect the functionality of the building’s organisation, where natural stone is used for the entrances, while rough sawn solid oak is employed for the main stairs and inner-ring area, and carpets cover the offices and write-up floors. Contrastingly, the laboratory floors are done in white resin finish for a more expanded vision, the white signifying purity and cleanliness, a colour of science. Full height glass walls portray the main partitions within the building, ensuring visual transparency and seamless movement between areas. The use of exposed concrete helps to reveal the construction method and structural function in tandem with complementing the lightness of glass and the warmth of wood with its solidity.

  • The main programme of the structure, the laboratories | AstraZeneca’s The Discovery Centre (DISC) by Herzog & de Meuron | STIRworld
    The main programme of the structure, the laboratories Image: © Hufton+Crow
  • The labs are done in plain white, to signify science’s purity and truth | AstraZeneca’s The Discovery Centre (DISC) by Herzog & de Meuron | STIRworld
    The labs are done in plain white, to signify science’s purity and truth Image: © Hufton+Crow

The low rise of AstraZeneca's The Discovery Centre as well as its functional diversity allow each floor to be distinct and different from one another - the underground level contains support facilities, a loading area and a plant zone; the street level is open and porous with both amenities and science on display in the laboratories; the first floor of the hovering disc is connected through the ring area and the second disc floor is top-lit through the skylight of the saw-tooth shaped roof. The institutional architecture comes together as one cohesive piece despite the distinct work environments of its floors, becoming a pivotal point for the CBC campus.

The low rise volume of The Discovery Centre | AstraZeneca’s The Discovery Centre (DISC) by Herzog & de Meuron | STIRworld
The low rise volume of The Discovery Centre Image: © Hufton+Crow

The CBC is part of a wider development called the Cambridge Southern Fringe Area, 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 new global research and development facility’s central location here is evocative of AstraZeneca’s ambition "to be a key point of exchange and collaboration in the CBC, 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," shares the Stirling Prize-winning Swiss practice.

Project Details

Name: AstraZeneca’s The Discovery Centre (DISC)
Location: AstraZeneca The Discovery Centre, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Area: 19,905 sqm (site area); 53'652 sqm (gross floor area); 145 x 156 x 20 m (LWH)
Years: 2013 -2021
Client: AstraZeneca Ltd., GB, Cambridgeshire, 1 Francis Crick Avenue
Architect: Herzog & de Meuron
Partners: Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, Stefan Marbach (Partner in Charge)
Project Team: Tomislav Dushanov (Associate, Project Director), Dieter Mangold (Associate, Project Manager), Amparo Casaní Arazo (Project Manager), Marcelo Bernardi (Project Manager)
Design team: Alexander Bürgi, Alexander Stern, Alexandros Mykoniatis, Vergueiro, Argel Padilla Figueroa, Artem Kitaev, Blanca Bravo Reyes, Bruno de Almeida Martins, Caetano Braga da Costa de Bragança, Cagin Sergin, Carlo Morsiani, Céline Jeanne, Christina Liao, Cristian Oprea, Dan Ladyman, Dave Edwards, David Gonçalves Monteiro, Delphine Camus, Diogo Figueiredo, Dominik Nüssen, Dulcineia Neves dos Santos, Edyta Augustynowicz, Evangelia Goula, Fabian Bartel, Farhad Ahmad, Felipe Pecegueiro Curado, Florian Frank, Francis Fawcett, Frédéric Beaupère, George Pickering, Giuseppe Giacoppo, Grima Thordardottir, Günter Schwob, Gwendoline Eveillard, Héctor Arderius,Herwig Schulz, Holger Rasch, Ignacio Cabezas, Ilia Stefanov Tsachev, Inga Federe, Isabel Labrador, Javier Artacho Abascal, Jean-Patric Wolf, John O'Mara, Julian Oggier, Keunyoung Ryu, Liheng Li, Liliana Filipa Amorim Rocha, Luis Gisler, Maciej Weyberg, Marie-Louise Raue, Marinke Boehm, Martin Brandt, Massimo Corradi, Michael Fischer, Michal Baurycza, Mikolaj Bazaczek, Mirjam Imgrüth, Mohammad Al Sabah, Nils Jarre, Orama Siamseranee, Pedro Peña Jurado, Pedro Polónia, Philip Turner, Raúl Torres Martín, Roman Aebi, Ruedi Gantenbein, Sara Jiménez Núñez, Simina Marin, Sophie Mitchell, Sophie Roelants, Stefan Goeddertz, Steffen Riegas, Svetlin Peev, Tanya Rainsley, Tomasz Saracen, Udayan Shankar Mazumdar, Vasilis Kalisperakis,Victor Lefebvre, Zaïra Pourier

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