The Schlumberger Gould Research Centre and attached service yard wall to the north.
The testing pits, the floor, the testing machinery, and the gantry crane in the Test Centre; as well as the partition walls, and fixed furnishings and fittings in the side ranges, are not of special architectural or historic interest. Also not of special architectural or historic interest are the metal fence and gates attached to the perimeter wall of the service yard to the north.
Reasons for Designation
The Schlumberger Gould Research Centre in Cambridge, built in 1985 for the oil industry research company, Schlumberger, to the designs of Sir Michael Hopkins (Michael Hopkins and Partners, now Hopkins Architects), is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: it is a particularly important building of the early 1980s by Sir Michael Hopkins, one of Britain’s foremost contemporary architects, and embodies innovative features and characteristics of the British High-Tech Movement;
* Technological interest: it is a highly innovative industrial building using new materials, technology and design solutions, built for a forward thinking client that demanded a fully flexible and highly prestigious building which promoted the company and reflected the advanced design and technology of its products;
* Historic interest: its strong historic association with Schlumberger, an internationally significant player in the history of oil exploration;
* Degree of survival: despite some minor alterations to the interior, the building has survived remarkably intact, significantly contributing to its high degree of special interest.
Schlumberger, the oilfield services company, was founded in France in 1927 by brothers Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger, who had experimented in the early years of the C20 with electrical means of mapping the Earth’s subsurface. Their company, which provides technical support and research for the oil industry, employs (in 2016) some 100,000 employees in 70 centres worldwide. The patronage of good design has been part of the company philosophy from its foundation, and has led it to engage such notable architects as Philip Johnson and Howard Barnstone to design its research centre in Connecticut, USA in 1952, and Renzo Piano to refurbish its Paris headquarters in 1981-4. The same philosophy resulted in the interviewing of 20 architectural practices and the subsequent selection of Sir Michael Hopkins in 1982, to design the company's research centre in Cambridge.
Sir Michael Hopkins (b1935) started an architectural practice together with Patty Hopkins in 1976, ending a partnership with Norman Foster that had begun in 1968. He had worked with Frederick Gibberd and Sir Basil Spence in the 1950s, and then studied at the Architectural Association. At the same time he worked on small projects with Oliver Hill, one of the pioneers of modernism in Britain. In the 1970s and early 1980s his work was associated with the High-Tech movement of the period, including the Greene King building in Bury St Edmunds, while his later work has explored greater contextualisation, beginning with the commission to rebuild the Mound Stand at Lord's Cricket Ground (1987). Hopkins was elected a Royal Academician in 1992 and received a knighthood in 1995.
In 1967 Michael’s wife Patty, then completing her own professional qualifications at the Architectural Association, introduced him to Norman Foster and the two formed a partnership – initially to work on a job for Hopkins’s father, a building contractor. The listed IBM building at Cosham (grade II) and Willis Building at Ipswich (grade I) were among the results of their collaboration. When in 1976 Michael and Patty Hopkins formed their own practice, they continued to work in this High Tech style into the 1980s, with their own house (grade II*) and Schlumberger.
The Schlumberger brief incorporated a development in two phases. The second phase, completed in 1992, is too young to be considered for listing at this time (2016). The initial phase, of 5600 m2, was designed to house a drilling testing station, a pumping station, laboratories, offices, computer rooms, library, meeting spaces and a canteen/restaurant. The brief asked for a design that was ‘creative yet functional, attractive but not flashy’ (Architectural Review, February 1984), and stressed the need for good connectivity and communication between the different activities and departments. A requirement for good natural lighting was specified for the Test Station resulting in the use of a Teflon-coated fibreglass membrane, the first for a major roof covering in the United Kingdom. The Test Station equipment is designed to replicate real drilling conditions with a high pressure chamber and drilling ‘pits’ included in the design, wherein pressures of 10,000 psi and drilling temperatures of 170o C can be achieved. With such extremes safety was a significant consideration. The north wall was designed to blow out in case of an explosion and, no doubt, the fabric roof covering, provided and manufactured by Stromeyer and engineered by Ove Arup and Partners, not only provided the required lighting but would if needed enable explosive pressures to escape upwards.
The side ranges, housing laboratories, computer rooms, meeting spaces, the library and offices, use a single-storey post and truss structure clad in glass and profiled steel sheeting, a development of the system developed by the Hopkinses for their own home in Hampstead (Listed at Grade II*). Work began in September 1983 and the company began to fully occupy the building in early 1985. An initial proposal for fabric canopies to provide brise soleil was rejected, and Schlumberger opted instead for external blinds to regulate temperatures for their staff in the side ranges. The temperature control under the membrane proved to be a challenge too, and the comfort level in the Winter Garden is not always easily maintained.
Since the building has been occupied, original structures in the service yard became obsolete and have been removed.
Scientific research facilities and offices erected in 1983-85 for Schlumberger Research Ltd., and designed by Sir Michael Hopkins (Michael Hopkins and Partners, now Hopkins Architects). The structural engineers were Anthony Hunt Associates and Ove Arup and Partners (roof membrane).
MATERIALS: the building is constructed of a tubular steel frame with concrete floor surfaces, polished in the Winter Garden, and a Teflon coated, fibreglass membrane for the main roof covering. Window frames are of powder-coated steel.
PLAN: on plan the building lies along a north/south axis, is broadly rectangular, and comprises a central area, housing the staff canteen, or Winter Garden, and the experimental Test Station adjoining to the north. This is flanked on either side by two single-story, long ranges, designed to house offices, laboratories and a workshop, conference and discussion areas, computer room, a kitchen and a library. Access is gained through a central doorway off a terrace to the south, while doors at the north end allow loading access to the Test Station. Fire-escape doorways on both sides are situated at each main truss. The whole is contained within an earth-embanked concrete wall, which becomes shallower towards the south, and which extends beyond the footprint of the building to enclose a service yard at the north end.
EXTERIOR: the metal frame of the building is externally expressed, and the bay system is clear from the outside. The structure of the 24m wide, central section is independent of the side ranges: tubular-steel, prismatic girders, form four trusses, held vertical by connecting, horizontal side girders of the same form. Each truss is anchored to the ground by steel rods. An exoskeleton of cables and tubular masts supports the membrane fabric of the roof-covering and helps to shape it into three polygonal ‘bubbles’. The membrane is made of single layer, Teflon-coated, glass-fibre fabric, in white; the colour intended to help temperature regulation.
The side ranges are constructed of tubular-steel posts on a 3.6m grid, each spanning 13.6m, and supporting Pratt roof trusses. A plastic-membrane insulated deck forms the flat roofing of the side ranges, which have full height, polyester-powder coated, steel, sliding and fixed window frames, fitted with external blinds. The blinds are an addition made by the owners; an acknowledgment that the provision made in the original design to mitigate solar gain was insufficient. The gable walls and recesses have a ribbed-profile, steel-sheet cladding. From the fire escapes, ground level is reached via aluminium steps. Originally without handrails, these have been added by the owners for safety reasons. External stacks for the air-handling systems survive at the north end.
The building stands within a shallow, embanked, concrete retaining wall (see below).
INTERIOR: internally, the building is principally arranged as it was when first completed. Doorways at each end give access to full length, off-centre corridors through both side ranges, off which access is given to rooms on both sides: naturally ventilated offices on the outside offering views outwards, and air-conditioned offices on the inward side looking into the Test Station and Winter Garden. The original melamine partitions*, creating cross divisions, and glazed, corridor doors* and partitions for offices*, survive in-situ in large part, but the side ranges were designed to be occupied flexibly, the partitions movable, and the owners have managed the side rooms accordingly. The door and window ironmongery has been renewed as sympathetically as possible where necessary. The discussion spaces were found not entirely suitable and all but one have been amended sympathetically. Main reception was originally in the Winter Garden on the west side, opposite the kitchen, but is now accommodated in the atrium of the second phase building. The glass and steel dining furniture in the Winter Garden was designed by Michael Hopkins but is not fixed.
A glazed partition separates the Winter Garden and the Test Station. The designers used the natural fall of land to allow the Test Station to be sunken and for a partial basement under the side ranges, open to the Test Station. The Winter Garden floor is of polished concrete tiles, while the Test Station floor*, also of concrete, is part solid and part perforated slabs over a service void. Beneath the floor is a central, sunken, high-pressure testing chamber* under heavy concrete slabs. In addition there are three, 4m diameter circular pits* on the west side, the deepest being 20m deep, and a flow-loop pit* on the west side. Access from the side ranges is via a steel/aluminium platform at the north end, with steps down to the Test Station floor. The platform accommodates a raise-able central section that enables goods access from the north doors. A gantry crane* allows heavy loads to be moved, and for the lifting of the pressure-testing chamber surface slabs.
The services are brought in from underneath the floor and run in an under croft beneath the side ranges, and are therefore hidden for the most part.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: an earth-embanked, concrete retaining wall. This extends to the north, beyond the footprint of the building, to form a service yard. Here the wall has concrete steps up to a walkway on top. The yard was designed to contain substations and a mud tank (now removed).
* Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the testing pits and high pressure chamber, the floor, the testing machinery, and the gantry crane in the Test Station; as well as the partition walls, and fixed furnishings and fittings in the side ranges, are not of special architectural or historic interest. Also not of special architectural or historic interest are the metal fences and gates attached to the perimeter wall of the service yard to the north.
This list entry was subject to a Minor Enhancement on 15 September 2021 to amend the description and add a reference to selected sources