IS THERE AN ANIMAL DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? ; the Revamped Residence and Research Centre at the Royal Veterinary College's Potters Bar Site Is a Hi-Tech Hub for High-Flying Students

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[broken bar] HE Royal Veterinary College in Potters Bar is a potentially dangerous place. It is the first site I have visited that presents the biohazardous risk of infection from exotic disease should safety directives not be followed.

That this world of laboratories and dissection rooms is located at the outer limits of London feels appropriate.

It is an area where animals (from racehorses to cattle) can roam free in the green belt but the intellectual heft of a world-class research institution can coexist. Two London architecture practices, Hawkins Brown and Architecture PLB, have completed two new buildings on site which fit the unusual requirements: one, an Pounds 18million student residence and refectory, the other, an Pounds 8 million Teaching and Research Centre.

The Royal Veterinary College is a great London institution. It was founded in 1791 with its original home in Camden Town, just as Lord Camden was planning his transformation of that rural district. The college's first job was to carry out a post-mortem examination on a racehorse named Eclipse, whose phenomenal success led scientists to try to establish what made the horse so fast. That operation was the symbolic foundation of the veterinary profession in Britain.

The college still occupies the site of its first home and gives its name to the road it sits on: Royal College Street. But as Camden urbanised and became a central district of the growing metropolis in the 19th century, there developed a need for a campus with access to fields and paddocks. In 1958 the Hawkshead Campus in Potters Bar was opened, housed initially in a series of temporary looking single- storey buildings (some of which still stand). These were complemented in the Eighties by a clutch of buildings so ugly that one is nicknamed "the Chef " due to its striking resemblance to a well-known motorway-side diner.

Architecture PLB's Teaching and Research Centre forms the main entrance to the college and contains a series of high-specification research laboratories. And Hawkins Brown's new refectory (almost everyone stays on site all day, so the restaurant can seat 200 people at a time) and series of brick pavilion buildings make for swish student accommodation. These are a step change in architectural quality for the campus, building on the success of the Eclipse construction, designed by Nicholas Hare and completed in 2003.

The overall master plan is quite beautiful.

The college has special dispensa-tion to build on the green belt, and the position of the buildings gives one the feeling that this is the end of the city. When you arrive at the campus by car, you are faced not with a building but with a large, tapering green area between two groups of buildings. This looks out to paddocks (one of which is used as a living blood bank for horses), and then to woods beyond.

On the left is the new refectory, with its mottled brick base and protruding, western red cedar upper storey. Behind this are the new three- and four-storey student accommodation blocks housing 205 students, and occupied since September. They are a step back from the landscape but feature oriel windows, giving great views out from student bedrooms, which start from Pounds 100 a week. …