William Gates Building, Cambridge

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William Gates Building
University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory.jpg
General information
Status Complete
Address 15 JJ Thomson Avenue
Completed 2001
Cost £20 million
Owner University of Cambridge
Top floor 2
Awards and prizes Bronze Green Impact Award

The William Gates Building, or WGB, is a square building that houses the Computer Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, on the University's West Cambridge site in JJ Thomson Avenue south of the Madingley Road in Cambridge, England.[1][2][3] Construction on the building began in 1999 and was completed in 2001 at a cost of £20 million. Opened by Maurice Wilkes, it was named after William H. Gates Sr., the father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.[4] The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided 50% of the money for the building's construction.

Building features[edit]

The building has the following features:[citation needed]

  • The glass wall in the fishbowl is decorated with the source code of the original EDSAC program
  • The floor in the street has tiles that have the binary, UTF-8 representation of 'Computer Laboratory — AD 2001 — ☺'
  • The fishbowl contains the original door to the Mathematical laboratory

Building improvements[edit]

Since opening, the William Gates Building has gone through a number of improvements:[citation needed]

  • The initial build made use of a colour-based type system. Stairwells were painted orange, the entrance to kitchens and bathrooms were painted blue, and wiring closets were painted red. In December 2013, the type system was largely replaced with white, energy-saving paint.
  • In December 2013, a bollard was erected outside the entrance to the executive bike shed in order to prevent deliveries by university contractors driving along the path at speed.
  • In August 2014, the William Gates Building bike shed was enhanced with a security fence, which gained it the nickname of The Alcatraz Bikeshed.
  • In May 2015, EMBS installed new car park barriers with a security skirt to prevent vehicles less than 1 meter tall from going under them.
  • In June 2015, the visitor car park was redesigned to increase capacity by installing diagonal parking spaces.
  • In 2015, version 1 of fence was built around the cafe patio to block the path from the patio to the nearby pavement. Version 2 improved the security of the fence by adding additional crossbeams. Version 3 further improved the security by adding chicken wire in order to injure any trespassers and adding do not climb posters. The fence is now colloquially known as The Great Fence of Cambridge. Following the closure of the footpath South of the William Gates Building, the Great Fence of Cambridge is vital in ensuring that there are no optimal routes between the William Gates Building and the centre of Cambridge.
  • The original building was found to cause substantial echo. Acoustic curtains have since been put up around the building to improve the acoustics.

Energy efficiency[edit]

The William Gates Building claims to be the most energy-efficient building in the portfolio of the University of Cambridge.[5] In Switch Off Week 2014, the William Gates Building had a net increase in energy consumption of 0.25%.[6] It currently[when?] has an energy rating of D-, thanks in part to the following measures:[citation needed]

  • The original plan was to heat the Intel Laboratory partially using the heat produced by CRT screens. However, before the building was completed, CRTs have been replaced by LCDs, which produce significantly less heat. This means that the Intel Lab is slightly colder than intended, especially during the winter.
  • Aggressive sleep scheduling of desktop computers.
  • Use of a chilled-beam convection-based cooling system, with Oventrop valves, to cool rooms in the summer, and warm the floor above in the winter.
  • Turning off lights in corridors, and the street, in hours of darkness.
  • Encouragement to use the stairs, not the lift, when not carrying items.
  • Installation of energy-reporting power distribution units and power-recording plugs.
  • A policy of not buying microwaves with a clock, thereby reducing power use by almost one watt.
  • Installing timers on coffee machines, so they turn off after 5 minutes of use.
  • Switch me off stickers on light switches.
  • Dimmed lights in the lifts.
  • Repainting the staircases with white, energy-saving paint.
  • Three photovoltaic solar panels on the roof produce enough energy, on a sunny day, to power the lights in the GN corridor.
  • All windows are locked, with the building manager owning the only legitimate key.
  • Using oil-based electric heaters rather than convection electric heaters. It is claimed that oil-based heaters are more efficient at turning 1 kJ of electricity into 1 kJ of heat. The principle saving appears to be from not having an LED, thereby preventing energy loss of light through windows.


The William Gates Building is the home of the Computer Laboratory cafe since opening, which has received sharp criticism since 2002 for the price of food,[7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14] quality of food,[15][16][17][18][19] range of food,[20][21] poor vegetarian choice,[22][23] opening hours,[24][25][26][27] lack of card payment (since fixed), long queues,[28] and covering up of contractual arrangements.[29] The Computer Laboratory, who occupy the William Gates Building, have repeatedly confirmed that there is 'little chance of either the problem being remedied or anything else being done'.

There has been a lack of hot water in the William Gates Building since 10 June 2014 in both the wash basins and in the showers due to an illegal boiler flue.[citation needed] This was intended to be fixed by 30 February 2015 but further delays postponed the repair until 5 June 2015. It is unclear whether this has been an intentional step to further improve energy efficiency.[citation needed]

The installation of the bollard and Alcatraz bike shed were untaken without performing a risk assessment.[citation needed] This has led to numerous injuries to cyclists: those approaching from the north can either cycle on the east side of the bollard, thereby risking hitting the opening door of the executive bike shed, or on the west side, where there is a sharp turn on a section of path that is often algae-covered.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


Coordinates: 52°12′39″N 0°05′31″E / 52.210925°N 0.092022°E / 52.210925; 0.092022 (William Gates Building, Cambridge)