About - Arup Building

The Arup Building

The Arup Building is a twentieth century design icon – one of the best examples of Brutalism in Cambridge. Originally envisaged as the first part of a much larger plan to redevelop the New Museums Site and link it to the city centre, it was a demonstration of ambitious engineering. Read Barnabas Calder on the Twentieth Century Society’s website for an architectural appreciation of the building.

Built to provide laboratories for Mathematics, Metallurgy and Zoology, the Arup Building also contains an extraordinary Museum of Zoology.

History of the New Museum Site

The New Museums Site is one of the University of Cambridge’s city-centre science sites, and is home to many of the University’s science departments, lecture halls and examination rooms, as well as two museums. Several important scientific developments of the 19th and 20th centuries were made on the New Museums Site, including the discoveries of the electron, ‘splitting the atom’ and the structure of DNA.

Over time the New Museums Site has filled up with a variety of buildings, ranging from grand Victorian structures through to modernist glass and concrete buildings (typified by the Arup building. The scene 250 years ago was very different, however, as the area now known as the New Museums Site was then the location of the University of Cambridge’s original Botanic Garden. It is fitting, therefore, that the Cambridge Botanic Garden has been involved in the planning of the green spaces around the Arup building as part of the refurbishment process.

Restoring and refurbishing the building

The principal challenge in carrying out the refurbishment of such an iconic structure has been how to achieve this whilst preserving the architectural integrity of Sir Philip Dowson’s design.

The building will be returned to its original envelope with all later additions removed. All the building services will be replaced and the location of plant on the roof rationalised and controlled. However the building fabric requires significant updating to meet modern standards and minimise energy loss. In consultation with the City Council and conservationists the design team have developed a strategy to achieve this.

New interventions

As well as careful refurbishment, the project involves some large-scale new interventions. Some of these are to enhance the relationship of the building to its context – improving access and legibility for both users and visitors.

Others are required to meet the needs of the new and existing users – creating major new entrances for the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and the Museum and Department of Zoology, providing a new public café and enhancing opportunities for collaboration between the users.

Project objectives

There are a number of objectives for the building, but those that are shared by everyone involved in the project are:

The complete renewal and refurbishment of the building in an architecturally sensitive way – restoring the integrity of the original design whilst giving the building a new future.

  • - To try to integrate the building more comfortably within its surroundings – making it more inclusive in every sense.
  • - To make the building more sustainable – radically improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon whilst exploring a new, purpose-designed way of setting and measuring sustainability targets.


An over-arching project objective has been to test how far a late 20th Century building with little or no insulation, single glazing and a huge variety of cold bridges can be made significantly more energy efficient whilst preserving its iconic design.

The project is also piloting a sustainability plan which is project specific and involves all stakeholders, including building users, in setting sustainability targets. The plan was used to drive the design and is now being used to monitor the construction phase. The users have set targets for the occupation phase too and will use it to help ensure that their inhabitation of the building maximises the sustainable potential of the building.

Targets include education, wellbeing, collaboration and inclusion as well as more conventional topics such as energy, carbon, biodiversity, water, waste, pollution, materials and transport.


The complex nature of this project, coupled with the needs of the various future occupants, means that the delivery of the project is in three phases. The first phase includes the creation of new stores for the Museum of Zoology, allowing them extra space for their collections. The second phase involves the revamp of the museum display areas along with the creation of a new public café at podium level, a new museum entrance and a new home for the iconic finback whale. Phase three runs concurrently with the first two phases and is delivering collaborative spaces and office accommodation for the Cambridge Conservation Initiative on the building’s upper three floors, along with a new extensive green roof and central atrium. The works are now being completed.