The Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics_ University of Durham; The Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics_ University of Durham;

Durham University's Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics, Durham

The Ogden Centre: building a low-carbon, low-impact research centre under tight restrictions

Durham University is one of the leading institutions for physics with its Physics & Astronomy department ranked as one of the best in the world for 2019. This recognition came shortly after the university first opened the doors to the Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics in 2017, engineered by Arup and designed by Studio Libeskind.

The challenge

The University wanted to expand its physics department. Their vision was to create an architecturally striking and modern building, which incorporated cutting-edge engineering and sustainability features. Arup was asked by the University to create a space to facilitate cross-collaboration between different scientists. They wanted a versatile space that not only was a visual spectacle but could change and adapt to a growing physics department. It was important the building would achieve a BREEAM ‘excellent’ rating to ensure the building was as energy-efficient as possible. Arup provided full building engineering which included structural, mechanical, electrical, façade and public health engineering; as well as specialist geotechnical and fire engineering services to bring this project to life.

The only available site for the Ogden Centre to be built on was an uncompromising car park which had limited space. Existing utilities, high groundwater levels, reduced accessibility and infrastructure capacity all made construction difficult. However, Arup delivered a high-quality facility for the physics department that met the clients’ needs and their sustainability requirements.

Project Summary

£11.5 million project

100seat seminar/meeting room


A versatile space which can adapt to future growth

A modern facility for learning

The building centres around a spiral structure which has several stacking parts. It was essential that the building be resilient against noise transmission and vibration and that the frame provided a stiff edge support for the cladding. The sustainably sourced larch exterior and the exposed concrete ceilings and staircases give the building an interesting, natural appearance which juxtaposes the futuristic, geometric construction. Arup created something truly unique and have given the physics department of Durham University an iconic structure which can adapt to their requirements now and in the future.

A sustainable solution

The holistic design ensures that the building envelope is thermally efficient, producing a form and structure that encloses passive environmental strategies through its exposed thermal mass. The building’s heat is produced by a low-carbon energy generation and use strategy that incorporates a ground source heat pump coupled to vertical boreholes. A rooftop photovoltaic array produces electricity for the building’s power needs.

The combination of Arup’s solutions results in 100% of the total annual space heating load and 35% of the building’s annual electricity consumption for the building to be met through on-site low or zero-carbon energy generation.

Alongside the low-carbon solutions, Arup worked to reduce the building’s impact in other ways: a rainwater harvesting system means that the centre uses less potable water, the drainage system was designed to mitigate climate change impacts and solar panels were also added to the building. On top of this, bike racks were introduced to make it easier for people to walk or cycle to work instead of driving.

Its design fits the requirements of a top-class research centre, dedicated to seeking answers to some of the most fundamental questions about our Universe. The new building conveys a sense of adventure that reflects the novelty and excitement of the research that goes on within it. It is an amazing place in which to work. ” Professor Carlos Frenk Director of the Institute for Computational Cosmology, Durham University

Building the future

The Ogden building has achieved BREEAM ‘Excellent’ and an ‘A’-rated Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). It also exceeds the client’s aim of providing 15% of its energy from low-and zero-carbon generation. Since the centre opened, the physics department at Durham University has won various awards, including some for dedication to equality and diversity in the workplace. The new research centre has successfully provided a space for collaboration and discussion between departments, which has been recognised for being inclusive and fair. The centre has helped the University achieve its goal of securing their place as one of the world’s leading institutions for physics, being recognised in the QS World Subject Rankings of 2019.

Learn more about Arup's work on scientific research facilities.