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CUPACLAD 101 random used for new sedgwick museum of earth sciences building

29 Mar 2021
Case study

The world renowned Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences is the oldest of the University of Cambridge Museums and has a central role as a teaching and research resource for the university’s Department of Earth Sciences. The museum’s internationally important collection contains approximately 2 million fossils, minerals and rocks collected from all over the world and spanning a period of around 4.5 billion years. Due to the total size of the collection it has been stored in various separate locations and access to items for research has been difficult.

The new building, located at the Madingley Rise site and named after Dr Colin Forbes, a senior figure in the university’s Department of Earth Sciences until his retirement, allows the collections to be reunited in one place. The building, designed by Cowper Griffith Architects and built by RG Carter, provides fully climate-controlled conditions for the collection with storage systems that allow easy access to all the specimens. The Colin Forbes Building adjoins the A.G. Brighton Building, which serves as the Sedgwick Museum’s conservation centre and archive building.

The design of the exterior includes a mix of brickwork and slate cladding to give the building a contemporary look while blending with and complementing the existing building. The mix of materials was also important due to the need to limit the number of glazed openings in the façade to control the indoor environment.

Alice Milligan from Cowper Griffith Architects explained: “Natural slate, a material that is formed beneath the earth over millions of years was chosen to reflect the fossils and rock samples housed inside the building. In our search for a natural slate cladding system, CUPACLAD® ticked all the boxes. The varying width courses of the CUPACLAD® 101 RANDOM system also allowed the impression of stratified rock to be created to provide a further visual cue to the geological nature of the work conducted inside. The dark grey colouring was ideal as an appealing colour contrast to the brickwork.”

CUPACLAD® 101 RANDOM consists of slates in sizes of 50×15 cm, 50×20cm and 50×25cm installed in horizontal courses to create a varied and dynamic finish. The system is installed using specially selected stainless steel screws that are concealed behind the row of slates above to be invisible once installed.

Alice added: “To create a stable environment within the building it was important to choose a system with a dependable and verified performance, especially with regard to waterproofing. While we had looked at other approaches to creating this look for the exterior, the proven performance of the CUPACLAD® system made the decision simple.”

Steven Duke, Project Director at RG Carter commented: “Although we had not used a CUPACLAD® system before, it was straightforward to install and we were very pleased with the guidance and technical assistance we received from CUPA PIZARRAS, especially on the installation options available. The hidden fixings of the CUPACLAD® system meant that we could create the clean, almost natural looking finish that the design of the building called for.

“Some areas of the building exterior presented challenges, such as around the narrow recessed glazed openings toward the front of the building. Here it was important to maintain the uniformity of the lines in the slate ‘layers’ and the CUPA PIZARRAS system made this simple.”

CUPA PIZARRAS has also provided information to the university about the origins of the slate used on the building. As a result, the cladding has become a point of interest for visitors to the building.

Dr Liz Hide, Director of the Sedgwick Museum said “We are delighted with the way in which the slate clad exterior of the building reflects the remarkable geological collections which it houses. These collections are the focus of research around important global challenges – from climate change to evolution and extinction – and we are proud to welcome researchers from around the world to this high quality building. Furthermore, the cladding itself can contribute to our public engagement – already a visiting school group has studied the minute pyrite crystals contained within the slate cladding.”

For more information about CUPA PIZARRAS and the CUPACLAD® systems visit

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