Delivering Global Best Practice In Temperature and Vibration Control

Oliver Milton, Hawkins\Brown
Matthew Ollier, Hawkins\Brown

As one of the largest physics departments in the world, Oxford Physics is world-leading in their research. For over 100 years the department at the University of Oxford have maintained their global status despite operating across multiple buildings, all in various states of disrepair.

To stay ahead of the competition, the department undertook the ambitious task of consolidating their previously disparate theoretical and experimental research activity into a single center of excellence, weaving together their varying and often conflicting program requirements. The client's strong and ambitious vision was for a collaborative working environment to sit alongside cutting-edge laboratories providing unprecedented facilities for their world-leading research in Physics.

Above ground, an environment far more akin to a modern workplace than an institution has transformed the Department's working practices, challenging pre-conceived norms.

Below ground, a 16-metre-deep complex of basement laboratories facilitates extremely sensitive experiments that advances research into quantum science and technology. Temperature is stabilized to +/- 0.1C and vibration is reduced to the width of atoms up to VC-M.

There are few reference projects globally for such an onerous program which will provide the infrastructure to move physics research at Oxford into a new realm. Achieving this has relied on close collaboration amongst the contractor and client teams, establishing bespoke methods of simulating, testing and verifying the design.

Oliver and Matthew will provide an insight into these processes, focusing on the unique aspects and challenges posed by this ambitious project and how the team worked to resolve these:

  • Advancing scientific research
  • Transforming conventional working practices
  • Improving health and well-being alongside scientific advancement
  • Knowledge transfer to ensure efficient building operation by end users

Learning Objectives

  • Recognize the significance of a strong and ambitious client vision to challenge pre-conceived standards and norms, reinforced through the role of a design champion;
  • Practice open mindedness and honest discussions amongst the project and client teams to deliver high quality, better-value-for-money solutions long term;
  • Demonstrate an understanding of how to collaboratively develop bespoke methods of designing and verifying unprecedented performance standards; and
  • Identify the importance of placing equal value on improving health and well-being within research facilities alongside onerous technical program requirements.


Oliver is one of the leading architects working in the UK Education and Research sectors. He is a Senior Partner of Hawkins\Brown and leads the practice's Education and Research team. His buildings have received wide recognition most notably five national RIBA awards including buildings at Oxford University. Alongside his project work, Oliver leads the innovation group within the practice, looking at how architects can use new digital tools to improve processes and design.

Matthew is an experienced architect with a particular specialism within the Education and Research sector, designing and delivering highly technical award-winning research facilities for many of the premier institutions in the world. Matthew has been leading the development of Hawkins\Brown's presence in North America, managing the new studio in Los Angeles and seeking to translate our multi-sector European expertise to the North American market.


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