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Chemistry of Health

Image of Matter in Grey by Jacob van der Beugel courtesy of Paul Riddle Photography

Artist Jacob van der Beugel was specially commissioned to create the façade of the Chemistry of Health building.

The work, which adjoins the main entrance, is a 10-meter long, 2.5-metre high series of 240 highly detailed, handmade, concrete aggregate panels that depict the progression of neurodegenerative illness.

Developed in consultation with RH Partnership Architects and Department of Chemistry scientists, it creates a dynamic and poignant focus to the façade, and relates to the research into neurodegenerative diseases going on in the building.

Speaking about his inspiration for the piece, van der Beugel explained: “These beautiful and corporeal concrete panels are architectural on one hand and almost flesh-like on the other. The overall impression of the artwork is that of an abstracted tissue bank containing all the endeavours past, present and future of the building.”

Professor Michele Vendruscolo, Director of the Chemistry of Health building, said: "Alzheimer's disease and related neurodegenerative conditions are still incurable and represent an enormous burden to our society. Increasing the awareness of the public about the possibility of finding effective treatments for these disorders is essential to win the battle against them. I have been delighted to work with Jacob van der Beugel, as he has immersed himself in the problem of communicating visually the effects of the disease on the brain and found a powerful way of describing its impact, and of giving hope for a cure."

The first three of the four rows of concrete panels depict healthy brain tissue and the changes resulting from degenerative diseases and ageing. In the final row self-healing concrete was used as a metaphor for the potential of Alzheimer’s therapies being researched in the Chemistry of Health building. Different colour gradations and stones illustrate neuron degradation and the increase of protein deposits. All panels were all handmade by van der Beugel, using ceramic aggregates. Henk Jonkers of the Technology University of Delft provided self-healing concrete capsules, without which the artwork would not have been possible.

The public art programme for the building also includes a programme of public workshops and talks linked to the main commission, developed by Cambridge based organisation Commission Projects for the University of Cambridge Estate Projects. Commission Projects is a visual arts consultancy which specialises in developing and delivering outstanding projects which define places and involve people.