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Schlumberger Cambridge Research Centre | 1984 | Membrane | United Kingdom


General information
Location address Madingly Road Cambridge
Location country United Kingdom
Year of construction 1984
Name of the client/building owner Schlumberger Cambridge Research Ltd., Cambridge
Function of building Laboratories & research centres
Climatic zone Temperate - cold winters and mild summers
Short description of the project The research building for Schlumberger in Cambridge, England, completed in 1984, represents the first large-scale example of the use of a Teflon coated, glass-fibre membrane in the UK. Although the setting of the building is far from urban, the project contributed to the development of tensile architecture by successfully demonstrating how a membrane envelope could be combined with more conventional, rectilinear construction. The brief required a facility for research into aspects of oil exploration, to include a drilling test station, laboratories, offices and staff facilities. The building also had to provide opportunities for contact between scientist and research staff and provide spaces for meetings with university personnel.

Through a clear separation of the facilities into those serving largescale use and those requiring smaller, subdivided spaces, a simple and logical plan form has been produced. Two single-story wings running north-south are seperated by a 24 m wide space which is covered by the single-skin membrane. The central space is divided into three bays, two of which house the drilling test station. The drilling rig requires only basic shelter and is thus suitable catered for by the large space enclosed by the membrane roof. The third bay is used for a winter garden where the staff restaurant and library are located. The restaurant and library areas, whiich require a greater degree of environmental control, benefit from being flanked by the single-storey offices and research facilities, which act as tempered buffer zones. Both spaces underr the membrane roof benefit from the natural daylighting that permeates the membrane fabric, which has a 13 % translucency. In addition, the prismatic trusses that span the central space and separate the membranes are glazed, affording views of the sky and letting a proportion of direct sunlight into the centre of the deep plan.

The combination of direct and diffuse sunlight gives the central spaces a unique quality of light that would be difficult to achieve if more conventional roof had been employed. At night these spaces are lit by uplighters, fixed to the internal steel structure, using the surface of the membrane to reflect light down onto the spaces below.

Roof structure
The seperation of the roof membrane into three main sections corrsponds to the 18 x 24 m structural bays. In addition individual tensioned fabric panels are employed at both ends of the building. In each situation the boundary of the membrane is clamped to a rectilinear framework, which is seperated from the main structure with glazed infill panels. The suspension and tensioning of the membrane is achieved fron the outside by means of steel cables, hung from eight pairs of tubular steel masts. These masts are supported on steel lattice frames 2,4 m wide and 19,2 m apart. The frames are linked by 1,5 m deep by 24 m long prismatic trusses forming portals that span the central spaces. Aerial booms, connected to the main masts by tension rods, complete the exterenal framework that holds the membrane in its required doubly curved shape. Once the membrane had been installed and clamped in place, it was pre-stressed by shortening the links betweenn each ridge cable and its corresponding aerial cable.

[Tensile Architecture in the Urban Context, Rudi Scheuermann & Keith Boxer, p114, 116]
Misc. project details
General comments, links The project has won several awards: Financial Times Awards Joint Winner - 1985, Structural Steel Design Award Commendation - 1988, RIBA Award Winning Buildings - 1988, Civic Trust Award Winning Buildings -1988
References Teil 9/21: Schlumberger Forschungszentrum - Grimm F. - Stahlbau Im Detail
Centre de Recherche Schlumberger - Architecture d'Aujourd'hui 237 Februari / 1985
Schlumberger Cambridge Research Centre Michael Hopkins and Partners
High Tech Architecture
Hopkins, the work of Michael Hopkins & Partners
Verso un processo integrato - Pinto V. - Le tensostrutture a membrana per l'architettura
Toiles composites pour architecture lgre - Techniques & Architecture 389
Research Facilities for Schlumberger, Cambridge - Tensile Architecture in the Urban Context
Schlumberger Cambridege Research Centre - The Building Envelope
Schlumberger Cambridge Research Center -
Duration of use
Temporary or permanent structure Temporary
Convertible or mobile Convertible
Design lifespan in years 00-05
Material of the cover
Cable-net/Textile/Hybrid/Foil Cable
Material Fabric/Foil Fiberglass
Material coating PTFE
Main dimensions and form
Covered surface (m2) 2160
Total length (m) 18
Total width (m) 24
Involved companies
Architects Michael Hopkins & Partners
Suppliers Verseidag-Indutex GmbH
Editor Marijke Mollaert
Order TensiNet Publications


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