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Lafarge help provide new home for Darwin’s plants

Artevia concrete used in construction of new Sainsbury Laboratory at Cambridge University

PLANT specimens collected by Charles Darwin during his voyage on HMS Beagle have found a new home in a landmark building constructed with Lafarge concrete.

The pressed and dried botanical samples, part of a bank of more than a million, are being housed at the Sainsbury Laboratory, Cambridge University’s new state-of-the-art plant research centre.

Aptly located in a corner of the university’s botanical garden, the £80 million centre is a two-storey angular structure formed from virtually seamless concrete slabs intercut with limestone columns and large glazed windows.

Some of the world’s top botanical scientists will use the space, which has been designed with laboratories, support areas, meeting spaces, a seminar room and a publicly accessible ground-floor cafe.

One third of the building is underground forming the environmentally controlled University Herbarium – the location for Darwin’s specimens.

Fundamental to the architect’s vision of the building was the use of Lafarge’s decorative concrete Artevia, some 2,100 cubic metres of which were tinted with 20 tonnes of white pigment for use in the wall facings.

Simon Morgan, Lafarge Aggregates’ sector manager for Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire, said: ‘We went through 18 months of trials with various mixtures until we had a colour the architect was satisfied with.

‘The idea was to have a building full of light and space and the walls needed to be bright and to reflect the natural daylight streaming through roof lights and windows. It really is quite an amazing building.’

As well as the Artevia concrete, a total of 4,800 cubic metres of structural concrete and 3,500 cubic metres of waterproof concrete were used in its construction.

The centre will eventually house 120 scientists supported by more than 30 additional staff, studying plant development.

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