Demolition of the University of Oxford’s Tinbergen Building on South Parks Road began this May. Evacuated in 2017 due to the discovery of asbestos within the building, the lot is being cleared to make way for a new biology and experimental psychology building.

Known as the Life and Mind Science Building, the new building will house both a biology department – combining existing plant sciences and zoology departments – and the evolutionary psychology department. According to the university’s website, this new building will “significantly improve the way psychological and biological science is undertaken in Oxford, helping scientists to solve some of our major global challenges.” 

In a letter to the Oxford City Council, Pro-Vice-Chancellor David Prout remarked that this project is the “largest building project the university has ever undertaken.” The estimated value of the project is  £201.8M in total. Demolition and construction will enlist the help of hundreds of workers, ranging from demolition experts to engineers to landscape designers. 

According to a public consultation document, prospective design plans for the new building include extending the public space surrounding the lot in order to create a public plaza just outside the building, allowing for more natural light and better views from within the building. Plans also include terraces with spaces for study, work, and social engagement. The new building will require an internal area of 26,000 square meters in order to accommodate the space needed for science, research, teaching, and office areas. 

Professor Kinnard, Senior Responsible Owner, wrote in the May 2020 issue of the Life and Mind Building newsletter that the COVID-19 pandemic has only minimally interfered with the project plans and that demolition is on track to wrap up by September 2020, with the new building opening for Michaelmas term 2024, as was originally planned. This was facilitated by a ‘COVID-19 mitigation plan’ deployed in early March, which included the transition of project meetings to online platforms..

The Tinbergen Building was designed by Sir Leslie Martin, a renowned post-war architect, best known for his work on the Royal Festival Hall at the South Bank Centre in London. The building is named after the Dutch biologist Niko Tinbergen who began teaching at Oxford in the late 1940s. 

Prior to 2017, the Tinbergen Building was the university’s largest science and research building. Over 1,600 students were forced to leave the premises after asbestos was discovered within the building in February 2017. Asbestos removal took place for a period of 18 months before demolition began. Because asbestos removal could not occur with occupants within the building, students and staff were moved into temporary buildings just south of the original Tinbergen lot and in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, while the Tinbergen Building was closed to the public. Planning permission for these sites runs out in June 2022 but can be extended.

Regarding the discovery of asbestos in the building, a university spokesperson said: “Asbestos was commonly used in construction and refurbishment work for much of the 20th century and can be found in any building built before the year 2000. The University follows national best practices and the requirements of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 to manage asbestos materials. We regularly monitor and survey for asbestos in buildings and, if any risk is detected, we take immediate action to ensure users are safe. For example, in 2017 we moved staff out of the Tinbergen Building when asbestos was found in areas where it might be disturbed.”