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o2h open Hauxton House’s laboratory and office facilities





Hauxton House, a key component – perhaps the jewel in the crown – of The Mill SciTech Park, is now open and providing a mix of office and lab space to life science and technology innovators.

Prashant Shah, of o2h, at the renovated Hauxton Mill site. Picture: Keith Heppell
Prashant Shah, of o2h, at the renovated Hauxton Mill site. Picture: Keith Heppell

The Mill SciTech Park sits on the 2.76-acre heritage Hauxton Mill site, an ancient water mill situated by the river Cam to the west of Cambridge. The mill site – said to feature in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – dates back to the 16th century. The current mill dates from the mid-18th century.

The renovation is a source of delight for Prashant Shah of the o2h group, which acquired the site in 2018. Prashant co-founded o2h with his brother Sunil to seed new ideas in science, technology and green innovation. He now heads up Co-Work Labs – a subsidiary of o2h – which operates the new facility, with a mission “to create one of the region’s most exciting community of entrepreneurs in life science, technology and social enterprise”.

“When we took the site over the building was in a fairly dilapidated state,” Prashant says. “It hadn’t been used for 30 years, it was very bland offices, characterless.

“We stripped it all back and brought it back to life in a genuine and fun way too, with lighting and a dome outside, to make it exciting for companies including in life sciences and green technology – a place where people can criss-cross over. It’s a hub and it’s quite intimate.”

O2h renovation of the first phase of the Hauxton Mill site, . Picture: Keith Heppell. (52856887)
O2h renovation of the first phase of the Hauxton Mill site, . Picture: Keith Heppell. (52856887)

Hauxton House has space for up to 10 anchor tenants, around 30 organisations who use the premises for events or meetings, and associate members operating via a variety of weekly on-site packages.

“There’s something unique about the building,” continues Prashant, speaking from Goa in India, where o2h has a second team. “Every room is different, it’s history in a contemporary setting. The people who’ve been here have been very excited about it.”

Prashant worked with Huw Williams, a director of London-based architectural practice Fourthspace, and Lee Garner, building contractor at Cambridge-based Garner Buildings.

“The team was myself, Huw the architect and Lee the builder,” says Prashant. “It’s a renovation not just a building job – it needed a customised solution. We literally worked like brothers, we never had a fall-out.”

Huw adds: “The project took three and a half years, from our appointment in June 2018 to completion in December 2021.

“A quirky, memorable design-led scheme was seen to be critical to the success of the project overall with its desire to create a relaxed and progressive environment, which could represent the unique character, attitude and vision of o2h as a company.

o2h group Hauxton Mill before works (54149589)
o2h group Hauxton Mill before works (54149589)

“The project would not have been conceived of, or executed as faithfully without a great deal of trust between the three of us. Whereas Prashant and I worked very closely and egged each other on to come up with a design that was multi-faceted, eclectic and carefully considered, this could only translate into reality through Lee’s keen eye, quality control and proactive approach to practically achieving the design. We had a team of suppliers and subcontractors that provided key areas like landscape external lighting, metal work and glazed screen elements – probably 20-25 people overall.”

The design featured 80 per cent office space, and 20 per cent labs. So how easy was it to install the labs?

“The inclusion of laboratory spaces with a listed heritage building proved to be the greatest challenge of the project,” says Huw. “The building fabric had porous materials that were technically unfit for such a controlled environment and one that had to be easily cleaned and prevent contamination both within the labs themselves and between the labs and other spaces in and around the building.

“The client brief was to make the spaces feel uniquely different to standard labs, and so the decision was to attempt to celebrate the exposed brickwork and the breathable lime plaster of the main walls as well as existing fireplaces within the two lab rooms. To ensure these spaces could meet the required regulatory criteria of a category-2 laboratory space, a lab consultant was brought in to advise on achieving a suitable level of protection to the surfaces of the room.”

Prashant Shah from O2h with the renovation of the first phase of the Hauxton Mill site. Picture: Keith Heppell. (52856623)
Prashant Shah from O2h with the renovation of the first phase of the Hauxton Mill site. Picture: Keith Heppell. (52856623)

On-the-spot decisions were made which incorporated the original features with the need for cleanliness. These included:

- A clear self-levelling resin material that could be poured on top of the timber parquet floor

- Toughened glass panels fitted over the heritage frames of the existing sash windows to prevent air movement from inside to outside the building

- A water-based sealant implemented to seal the lime plaster area’s perimeter walls.

The air conditioning was perhaps the biggest challenge, not least because the units couldn’t be installed outside the heritage building.

Huw says of the outcome: “It was devised that the AC units would be concealed within a low-key brick enclosure matching the building, and the duct routes would be buried in underground trenches to fully conceal the service routes and avoid any impact on the building elevations/appearance.”

Prashant Shah from O2h with the renovation of the first phase of the Hauxton Mill site. Picture: Keith Heppell. (52856837)
Prashant Shah from O2h with the renovation of the first phase of the Hauxton Mill site. Picture: Keith Heppell. (52856837)

Lee agreed.

“We started the stripout works in April 2019 and you could say practical completion was in December 2021 .

“One of the biggest challenges we faced was providing air conditioning ductwork and equipment to the laboratories in a disguised unseen way so that these did not spoil the look of the building.

“It is also a major challenge to deliver a heritage/onservation style theme to office area development.

“Sourcing the correct type of reclaimed materials to match the existing building materials was a very difficult and exhaustive factor. We must have been to at least 15 different reclamation yards and travelled 1,000 miles or so in search of this.”

The outcome is something of a triumph, and the first tenants are now in situ: Ooomph Ventures is working on mobile EV charging, Kooanu is a biotech and Basck is an IP company.

“Even AstraZeneca have come round,” Prashant says, “and Cambridge Judge Business School, lots of venture capital companies and Astellas Pharma.

“It’s all ready to use – in the labs we provide the aircon, the shared capabilities and some furniture, but if specialist equipment is needed we’d expect the client to bring it in.

“Because of the pandemic we’ve been timid about pushing it out but by March we expect Hauxton House to be fully occupied.”



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