University of Oxford

Building Use


Project Duration

12 months

Procurement Method


Why buy from Portakabin

Project Features

  • Complex installation
  • Temperature monitoring and heating control
  • Specialist acoustics throughout
  • Specialist ventilation and gas
  • Detection systems
  • Category two wet laboratories
  1. The Requirements

    The Tinbergen Building was the University’s largest teaching and research building and home to the Departments of Zoology and Experimental Psychology as well as being used by the Department of Biochemistry for teaching. Following the unexpected closure of the Tinbergen Building in February 2017, options were explored to relocate the departments in order to replace 22,000m2 of viable space. Specialist teaching laboratories, testing facilities and office accommodation needed to be taken into account as well as dedicated research facilities. 

With space at a premium, the University needed state-of-the-art facilities for world-leading departments, and quickly. Anna Sutherland, who led the Arup M&E team assisting Portakabin, explains, "To ensure a successful project, it was essential to quickly understand the complex servicing requirements associated with the laboratory buildings. The fast turnaround for the facilities demanded that the briefing and approvals processes were streamlined. Therefore, throughout the project, clarity and transparency were of utmost importance. Arup’s wealth of experience in laboratory and higher education facilities expedited this, enabling the Portakabin team to work collaboratively with the University ensuring their aspirations and high-quality expectations were realised."

Adrian Yap, Principal, fjmt studio comments, “As part of the decant for the Tinbergen Building, fjmt studio were commissioned to design, in collaboration with Portakabin, three modular laboratory buildings. Although only intended to provide temporary accommodation for a period of up to five years, the modular laboratories still needed to provide state-of-the-art facilities for the world leading departments. These facilities ranged from Cat 2 wet laboratories and constant temperature rooms to over 50 specialist testing booths, some electromagnetically shielded to enable EEG studies.”

  1. The Solution

    The project involved the construction of three separate modular buildings across the campus. The urgent need for space was reflected in the programme with the first building completed in under a year from the initial engagement.

    Lee Connolly, Head of Project Design & Engineering for Portakabin explains: “Due to the interim nature of the buildings, the client requested minimal cladding details and finishes.

    "We suggested a warm grey colour to the exterior as it is complementary to the existing material palette on the buildings around the site but will also recede into the background. This will ensure there are no negative effects of glare or reflections to users of the surrounding sports grounds. When we make design proposals we take a 360 view on the impact of our buildings and consider both their function and aesthetics.

    “The footprint for this building was very specific and had to be carefully controlled. Designers had to take into account how people flow through the building in order to maintain separation between various groups of test subjects and researchers. Maintaining confidentiality for this sensitive work was key.”

The most challenging M&E aspect was the temperature controlled rooms, required to provide a range of conditions between four and 37°C. Working closely with both the University and the supply chain, our team were able to agree the brief for these spaces. Additionally, we installed specialist ventilation and gas detection systems, specifically to enable the use of liquid nitrogen within the respective laboratories. The plethora of high-quality activity at the University, including niche projects such as researching delicate spider webs, requires these high-quality facilities and systems to complement the work. Lee continues: “We have the capability to deliver accommodation ranging from a single classroom through to award-winning architectural schemes as well as hybrid buildings using advanced off-site technology for primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities.”

Lee Connolly says, “As the pioneers of off-site construction, Portakabin has the design, engineering and project management expertise to construct buildings of any size. The buildings we are currently engineering are challenging traditional build's flexibility and potential. We offer the flexibility to adapt high-specification, internal space to replicate traditionally built rooms without any compromise on quality.”

We commend Portakabin on their approach to providing facilities for the University of Oxford that are above and beyond. The end result has been welcomed by the building users who have commented on the high quality of finish. Their experience in delivering their product came to the fore during the construction stage of the project and the standard of quality is a contributing factor in limiting the amount of post attendance.

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