Architect RMJM has submitted planning application for £20m joint venture on west Cambridge site.
These are the first published images of the £20m computer research facility being developed by Cambridge University and software giant Microsoft.

Multidisciplinary firm RMJM last week submitted a planning application for the 10 000 m2 scheme on the West Cambridge Science and Technology site on the city's Madingley Road.

The centre will be built with a £10m donation from Microsoft chairman Bill Gates' personal fortune. Geoff Cohen, project architect at RMJM, said: "Part of Bill Gates' motivation for funding the project was clearly the chance of recruiting bright students from a world centre of excellence." The complex will accommodate 100 staff and 350 students from Cambridge University's fast-growing faculty of computing, along with 60 Microsoft researchers.

A triple-height colonnade fronts an entrance block that is clad in western red cedar and features a terracotta rainscreen.

Offices, lecture theatres, research and recreational spaces are arranged on three floors around two open internal courtyards.

Some research spaces will be shared between the faculty and Microsoft, but most will be arranged as individual research laboratories. Microsoft will occupy 20% of the total research space.

Shared circulation routes and recreation facilities have been designed to encourage interaction between the building's users.

RMJM's Cohen said: "Communication was a very important aspect of the brief. The idea is that computing students and Microsoft researchers will take advantage of chance encounters in corridors, exchange attendance at lectures and that there will be a cross-fertilization of ideas.

"There will be lots of kitchenettes, coffee areas, meeting places and staircases equipped with whiteboards, to encourage that kind of academic discussion." To win the commission, the architect had to prove it was able to make full use of the Internet as a design aid. RMJM posts CAD drawings on the Internet and makes electronic presentations on a web site that can be accessed only by the computing faculty and Microsoft.

RMJM is architect, structural and services engineer, landscape architect and town planner on the project. Gardiner & Theobald is QS.

The computer centre is the first new building on the university-owned West Cambridge Science and Technology site. The university expects to get planning permission next month for the site, which was masterplanned in 1996 by MacCormac Jamieson Prichard.

Work is expected to start on the centre later this year, with completion due in 2001.

RMJM is to carry out a feasibility study for a material sciences faculty building on the same site.