Blavatnik School of Government

Engineered European Oak Flooring

Project

Blavatnik School of Government

Location

Oxford

Architects

Herzog & Meuron

Partnerships

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Introduction

The Blavatnik School of Government is a striking space for those looking to improve, inform and support effective public policy across the world. It is located in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter at the University of Oxford, and features 4,000 square meters of Taylor Maxwell European Oak flooring. Designed by renowned architects Herzog & de Meuron to represent the openness and collaboration that are the school’s founding principles, the building was officially opened in 2016.

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Challenge

The Blavatnik building was designed to support the school’s mission of promoting better government and creating a vibrant academic community. Providing natural light and fresh air to the school’s 550 students and staff was a key project requirement, as well as ensuring the building was energy efficient and sustainable over the long term.

The project needed to combine modern control systems and cutting-edge technological solutions to limit the environmental impact of the building. The brief specified a number of key sustainability targets that needed to be met by the design and construction teams. The materials used had to accommodate the ‘Oxford 2040’ weather scenario, be certified ‘BREEAM Excellent’ and meet Oxford City Council’s planning requirements. Ticking all of these boxes required choosing exactly the right flooring materials.

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Response

To achieve the desired sense of openness and provide a connection to the rest of the university, the project team created a ‘window to the world’ above the entrance of the building utilising the largest double-glazed single pane of glass in Europe. The design also means that natural light and fresh air reach every part of the building, while 107 photovoltaic panels and a 500-metre squared green roof make active use of sunlight.

An important part of creating a sense of warmth was the use of our European oak floors throughout the interior. Used to floor the basement, a series of spiral staircases, and the broad plain of the Atrium, the chosen timber flooring ties every part of the project together. Its finish acts to accentuate the lighting, giving an extra kick to sunlight and boosting the artificial lighting used to illuminate the interior at night. When added to the complex geometry of the layout, the result is a unique place to study and learn.

To ensure environmental sustainability, automated natural ventilation and a ground source heat pump were used to provide less energy intensive ways to maintain the perfect working temperature all year round. These innovations, combined with solar panels, low energy lighting and rainwater harvesting, mean the building consumes 49% less energy than building of comparable size. The European Oak’s FSC accreditation also shows that the wood was sourced from a responsible and ethical supplier dedicated to helping forests remain thriving environments for many future generations.

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Outcome

The Blavatnik project highlighted our commitment to always using the perfect material for the job, and never settling for the easy route if it is not right for the building. Herzog & de Meuron wanted to create a specific feeling while also meeting the school’s sustainability goals. This called for us to source unusually narrow multiply European Oak flooring, lightly band sawn and treated with an ultra matt lacquer. These choices allowed the flooring to emphasise both natural sunlight and the low energy lighting used to illuminate the interior.

The result was a building that more than lived up to the school’s vision and exceeded the projects goals. Since its doors officially opened, the building has been praised by students, architects and sustainability experts alike. As well as achieving the desired BREEAM Excellence energy performance rating, the building has been awarded the RIBA National Award, the Oxford Preservation Trust Award and the 2016 Structural Awards trophy for an educational or healthcare structure.

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