David Attenborough Building refurbishment, Cambridge, UK

David Attenborough Building refurbishment, Cambridge, UK
  • location:
    New Museum Site, Cambridge, UK
  • Value:
    £40 million
  • Contracts Used:

    NEC3 ECC Option A

  • Start-Finish:
  • Employer:
    University of Cambridge
  • Contractor:
    Kier Construction
  • Project Manager:

The University of Cambridge’s ‘new’ David Attenborough Building at its New Museums site is the result of a £40 million NEC-procured refurbishment of the former Arup Building completed in 1971.

Home to the Museum of Zoology and previously to laboratories for the Department of Materials, Science and Metallurgy and Zoology, the brutalist-style five-storey building was one of the worst-performing in the university’s estate. It had no insulation, single glazing, numerous cold bridges and poor accessibility.
Nicholas Hare Architects’ creative redesign has transformed the iconic structure into an inclusive and energy-efficient global centre for conservation and biodiversity.
As well as the Museum of Zoology it now houses the new Cambridge Conservation Campus on its upper three floors. This was created by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, a collaboration between the university and leading biodiversity conservation organisations.


The university let the refurbishment work to Kier Construction under an NEC3 Engineering and Construction Contract (ECC) Option A (priced contract with activity schedule) in November 2013.
Structural engineering, project and cost management was by Aecom with mechanical, electrical and fire engineering design by Buro Happold.
The state-of-the-art refurbishment included a new entrance hall, exhibition and storage facilities for the museum, and a new entrance, collaborative hub and four-storey atrium with a living ‘green wall’ for the campus.
Insulation and double-glazing have been provided throughout together with new building systems. These include combined heat and power, rooftop photovoltaics and passive ventilation. Over 82% of the original building’s embodied carbon dioxide has been retained by keeping demolition to a minimum.
The completed project was opened by world-renown broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough in April 2016.


The University of Cambridge is a highly experienced user of NEC contracts, having used them throughout the management and development of its extensive academic property portfolio for many years.
Previous examples include the £82 million, 11,000 m2 Sainsbury Laboratory in the Botanic Gardens completed in 2011, and the adjacent £4.6 million, 1000 m2 Plant Growth Facility completed in 2005. Both were procured using ECC Option A.
Matt McBrien, Aecom’s project manager on the David Attenborough Building contract, says the NEC again worked well for the university, delivering the complex project within budget and in a controlled manner.


According to McBrien, ‘All members of the David Attenborough Building project team bought into the NEC philosophy of close collaborative working to deliver this complex and sophisticated refurbishment scheme.'

‘The NEC early warning process to notify the other party of emerging risks or issues proved to be particularly useful. It enabled the parties to discuss issues openly and to determine the most practical solutions at the earliest opportunity.'
‘Timely agreement of change implications was also very useful to ensure that the client had real-time understanding of the budget position. Overall NEC provided a robust procedure for control of the contract and a full audit trail of decisions and actions communicated.’


  • NEC obligation to work in a ‘spirit of mutual trust and co-operation’ results in close collaboration between all members of the project team.
  • NEC early warning process enables open discussion of issues and timely agreement of change implications, giving client a real-time understanding of the budget.
  • NEC provides a robust procedure for control of the contract and a full audit trail of decisions and actions communicated.


Contact: Matt McBrien, Associate Project Manager, Aecom, Cambridge, UK
Tel: +44 1223 486062
Email: matthew.mcbrien@aecom.com
Web: www.aecom.com
Photograph courtesy of Alan Williams Photography

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