Blade II at University of Oxford’s first BREEAM Outstanding building

The Big Data Institute (BDI) is a 7,500 m2 medical research building, dedicated to analytical research of the causes, consequences, prevention and treatment of disease.


The building, designed by Make Architects for the University of Oxford, has space for over 550 people. The researchers process enormous amounts of data and aim to provide insights into a wide variety of illnesses and treatments worldwide.  The large server room currently provides enough computing power for 600 trillion operation a second.

Big Data Institute, Oxford University, Make Architects

Despite the heat generated by all this activity, the building uses a passive cooling strategy including a concrete ‘labyrinth’ beneath the building through which exterior air is drawn in, cooling or heating it using the thermal mass of the ground.

The thermal mass of the building itself is used as a sink to provide cooling throughout the day.  Spectral’s Blade, combined acoustic and lighting system, was chosen as it is specifically designed with thermal mass systems in mind.

Thermal mass systems only work with large surfaces of exposed concrete which can absorb excess heat during the day and then release it at night.  Conventional ceiling systems and luminaires cover the concrete surfaces and reduce the thermal efficiency.  Blade’s vertical baffle arrangement allows warm air to rise between the units and make contact with the concrete surfaces.  The acoustic baffles reduce reverberation times within the space, which otherwise would be overwhelming for staff with so many exposed hard surfaces.

While thermal management of the building was one priority, the efficiency of every system was considered.  Blades highly efficient LED light engines mean lower electrical load and heat.  For this project, the Blade light baffles were specified with DALI dimming and were integrated into a sophisticated control system.

At Spectral, we worked closely with the electrical engineers, Long and Partners over a number of years in preparation for the project.  We made a number of modifications to the standard Blade product to fulfill the design brief and especially to make the installation trouble free.

In order to make installation simpler and to ensure that wiring faults did not slow down progress the Blade lighting baffles were supplied with plug and socket modular wiring connectors from the factory.  In addition the movement and daylight sensors for the lighting control system were also integrated into the luminaire – ensuring the ideal placement of the sensors and ruling out any problems due to incorrect wiring on site.

Finally the emergency lighting was part of the Blade system, with EM-Pro addressable emergency unit being used, allowing centralised testing and reporting.

Blade is suspended on easily adjustable wires – the clutches are hidden in the cable tray at the rear of the luminaire -and now uses a magnetic coupling feature for joins and end caps.

Big Data Institute, Oxford University, Attrium

While very much a functional building, the interior architecture is still striking.  The project is one of the first to use Blade II which allows for a visually continuous ribbon of light. While, when the lights are off, the light baffles replicate the pattern of the acoustic baffles.

Project Details

Client: University of Oxford
Architect:  Make Architects
M&E: Long & Partners
Acoustics engineers: Hoare Lea
Main Contractor: Mace
Luminaires: ~1,400 x DALI, LED, Blade II
Completion:  January 2017

Project Images

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