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Embedded in the Cambridgeshire countryside, Sheppard Robson’s lovingly crafted science park is set to be a hive of innovation for the next 100 years

At the Hive, the Technology Partnership’s new building in rural Cambridgeshire, Sheppard Robson has ditched the accepted methodology for designing science parks and instead delivered something more like a modern art gallery or place of worship. Planes of beautifully crafted concrete, naturally lit from above, form a quietly monumental backdrop to the company’s wide-ranging research projects. “It’s a bit of a cathedral to science,” says David Ardill, partner at Sheppard Robson. “The uniformity and precision of the concrete makes it feel very cared for and calming, kind of like a sacred space.”

The Technology Partnership (TTP) is not a typical tech company. Working across life sciences, autonomous and satellite tech, sustainability and other advanced industries, its role is to make the often-unseen breakthroughs that make other pioneering products possible, from varifocal contact lenses to self-driving cars. “They are the very, very front end of problem-solving,” says Ardill. “Little pockets of research are happening throughout the building. Some might not go ahead, but others might become major projects.”

The Hive therefore had to be able to shape-shift as projects evolve, but TTP also wanted a structure that would feel like a permanent landmark for the village of Melbourne. The brief called for a design life of over 100 years. “TTP has been based here for a very long time and they almost have a symbiotic relationship with the village,” says Ardill. “This project was very personal, so it was never going to be a generic building.” 

Sheppard Robson’s solution has been to create a single-storey building with a repeating grid of 15m x 15m “plug and play” modules set within a gallery-like frame of pristine concrete corridors. Each module contains either a lab, office or meeting room and operates as an independent cell. Three high-containments labs, at the north end of the building, are served by rooftop plant directly above, connected via openings cast into the slab. “That means that if you want to change the configuration of the facility, you can just drop the servicing straight through the ceiling.” 

All of the other modules can be repurposed to be either fully lab or fully office. A post-tensioned concrete roof slab enables each space to be column-free, maximising flexibility. Light and data servicing run from a 600mm floor void up to up to flexible ceiling tracks cast into the slabs. “They can be refitted without disrupting the rest of the building,” says Ardill. “You just close that space off and the building can operate around it.”

This sense of perpetual flux stops at the perimeter of each module: “You're now stepping into the art gallery world instead of the science world,” as Ardill puts it. The rooflit corridors, all 2m wide, are models of minimalist precision. Everything is unadorned exposed concrete: downstand beams and columns, line up with millimetre accuracy; joints are concealed behind sharp shadow gaps; window sills are immaculately hand-trowelled; and there isn’t a tie hole in sight.

“We realised this building was going to live or die by how good the concrete was,” says Ardill. There was a lot of upfront work to coordinate cast-in services, plan the shuttering, sequence the pours and make sure the finishes were of the highest standard. Different mixes were tested and a full-scale mock-up of a wall was constructed with the chosen mix.

Temperature controls and release agents were critical, because the casting would span different seasons, which could have affected the tone and texture of the concrete. The use of a 50% GGBS mix, which tends to cure more slowly in the winter months, threw in another curveball. “A lot of different technologies and bits of expertise were used to give the same finish,” says Harry Hobbs, managing director of concrete contractor Whelan & Grant. “There are 120 columns in the building, and I feel like if you walked through any part of it, you'd see the same consistency.”

Hobbs’ team had to devise a number of innovations to keep joints and traces of workmanship to a minimum. For the roof slab, the ply-faced aluminium formwork was suspended from above so that the downstand beams, slab and upstands could be cast in a single pour. Similarly, a method was found for terminating the post-tensioning rods on top of the slab, rather than at the end, allowing the slab edges to remain clean. The single-storey blade columns were also cast in one pour. To avoid tie holes, steel shutters were braced from above like an H frame, along with bespoke bracketry and connectors to resist the increased lateral pressure. 

A science building with such a strong element of repetition and rigour could easily feel sterile, but Sheppard Robson has sought to evade this by sowing what Ardill describes as “purposeful confusion”. The key move here has been to stagger the grid so it shifts by half a module at every junction on the east-west axis. So while the north-south corridors run in straight lines from one side of the building to the other, head the other way and you run into structure every 15m.

This not only breaks down the scale of the floor plan, but also helps to blur the line between the different workspaces. “The interaction between the labs and the offices isn't linear,” explains Ardill. “You have to make a choice. When you add these choices up from one side of the building to the other, you're always seeing different people, different projects.”

There are no physical corners to the modules – the staggered layout allows the structural loads to be moved sideways to blade walls midway along the adjacent module. This helps the building to feel less like a rigid series of squares, says Ardill. “There’s no desk stuck in the corner – everyone is next to a corridor with a view to the outside.” 

This also addressed another important aspect of TTP’s brief – the company prides itself on its non-hierarchical structure and, apart from the managing director, no one has an office or even a job title. It’s a reminder of what a bespoke project this is, with every aspect of the design serving a specific purpose and guided by the client’s own approach to problem-solving. “We sort of became part of TTP and their way of thinking,” says Ardill. “It was very intuitive, very open. This time, the problem just happened to be a building.”

Project Team


Sheppard Robson 

Structural engineer 


Main contractor 


Concrete contractor 

Whelan & Grant

Precast concrete supplier 

Marble Mosaics


Hufton + Crow