Visiting Cambridge’s Sainsbury Laboratory is inspiring, says Bill Price. But new stair canopies at Clapham Junction have done nothing to improve the commuter experience

Bill Price

The Sainsbury Laboratory in Cambridge is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. The Laboratory is in the Botanic Garden not far from Cambridge railway station.

On my visit I was struck by the cleanliness of the space and the quality of the light, not to mention a total absence of clutter. The standard of materials and the way the whole laboratory has been assembled is fantastic. The budget was a little bit fantastic too but it’s all there to be enjoyed by the observer as well as the user.

The idea of the building is to create a world class centre for excellence in science and it is hard to imagine anyone not being constantly inspired by the laboratory and its surroundings. This is the latest project supported by the Sainsbury family Gatsby Charitable Foundation - so thank you.

The new inclined stair canopies at Clapham Junction railway station are ugly and somewhat ineffective. The faceted glass wing-like structures are so high that they do not provide any shelter from the wind or rain. They are also a rather odd blue colour.

They don’t appear to blend with the gentle curve of the platforms or the angular over bridge linking the north and the south aspects of the station.

It is possible that much more work is due to be carried out but right now it does not look like a great addition to our railway infrastructure and certainly not for one of our busiest railways station. It is such a pity that the 430,000 daily passengers will not see a new piece of station design up to the standard of other work that is being carried out across the UK.

Bill Price, director and head of client management at WSP UK


Sainsbury Lab

Sainsbury Laboratory Cambridge University was designed by Stanton Williams and opened in April 2011. The lab offers plant science research facilities for up to 150 scientists. The university herbarium, located in the building’s basement, contains plant specimens collected by Charles Darwin and the 180-year-old botanic garden in which it stands was designed by his mentor, John Stevens Henslow.


Rail station

Clapham Junction is the UK’s busiest rail station. In 2009 it was judged to be one of 10 stations in England in need of improvement to tackle overcrowding. Work is ongoing and a new overground extension, which will connect the station to Dalston Junction, is due to open later this year.