Cavendish III labs , Cambridge

Civil, structural and vibration engineering concept for the Cavendish III two buildings laboratory and neighbouring shared facilities hub, enabling the University of Cambridge to continue pursuing world-class physics.

With a long and distinguished history including 29 Nobel Laureates, the University of Cambridge is one of the most prominent physics research institutions in the world, renowned for fundamental discoveries such as the discovery of the electron and the structure of DNA. Located on the West Cambridge campus, Cavendish III laboratories, which will be known as The Ray Dolby Centre in recognition of a £75 million gift from The Ray Dolby Foundation, are bringing the large number of research groups in the department together under one roof to encourage collaboration.

Ramboll developed the civil, structural and vibration engineering concept for the Cavendish III two buildings laboratory and neighbouring shared facilities hub. With a gross internal area of around 33,000 sq m, Cavendish III will provide state-of-the-art facilities for research and teaching, housing a range of laboratories, offices, clean rooms, workshops and multiple lecture theatres. A 4,700 sq m shared facilities hub will provide catering, collaborative teaching, meeting, study and library spaces to the campus.

Sustainable operation

With sustainability deeply ingrained in the project design, the plans include the installation of a Ground Source Heat Pump (GSHP) system on site that will reduce operational energy as well as deliver in terms of the laboratories required 24/7 operation. The building will also provide 770 cycle spaces to accommodate the high number of staff and students using sustainable means of transport.

The flagship element of Cavendish Laboratory includes capacity for public events. Ramboll has provided the engineering design for the centre’s impressive entrance, which comprises a floating lecture theatre and large open atrium. This new public space will facilitate the department’s extensive programme of work with schools and the general public, which will continue to serve the local population well into the future.

The new facility is being designed to provide laboratories that will bring about the next generation of physics research. Ramboll has advised on the vibration design of the building to achieve a highly stable environment for investigations at the atomic scale. The building has been designed with the future in mind, with Ramboll providing engineering solutions for the building to be adapted in later years to meet changing research demands.

Achieving ultra-low vibration performance

Achieving a highly stable environment for investigations at the atomic levels poses numerous technical challenges. One of the most significant design drivers for the project was to achieve ultra-low vibration performance for a large area of the building. Not only did this drive the engineering design but it was a fundamental part of the architectural concept. Ramboll’s engineers worked very closely with Jestico + Whiles to develop a building massing and layout of spaces that achieved the technical, usability and aesthetic requirements in a simple, logical way. In achieving this goal, the design offers flexibility for the future as well as good value for money.

The project features a basement in the vibrationally quietest area of the site with a 2m thick foundation slab cast 8m below ground. This combination of basement depth and slab thickness was determined to achieve the best combination of performance and cost for the ground conditions and vibration sources around the site. As well as computer modelling, a proof-of-concept series of tests was carried out on specially cast slabs prior to construction. These validated the vibration improvement expected giving further confidence that the solution would achieve the requirements.

As well as stringent vibration control, the team have also met the challenging criteria in relation to temperature and humidity control and EMI (electromagnetic interference) protection.

Ramboll has been involved with the University of Cambridge physics department since 2014, working with them to define the technical brief for the building. We were then awarded the civil, structural and vibration engineering design commission for the project, working for University of Cambridge. We are also responsible for the acoustic and fire engineering design through the architects, Jestico + Whiles.

Ramboll has also been appointed by University of Cambridge to undertake a resident engineer role for the civil, structural and vibration engineering aspects during construction.

The two buildings of the Cavendish III project are currently in construction and are due for completion in 2023.

" We have worked very closely with the users and project team to produce a design that will achieve the extremely demanding technical specifications required for the Physics research to be carried out whilst also being a fantastic place to work and visit. The project is undoubtedly complex, and we have relished the challenge of applying our extensive experience of similar buildings as well as developing new tools and approaches to solve the challenges of this unique facility. We will now be actively working with the contractor and their designers to ensure the finished building is of the highest quality and sets a new benchmark for Physics and Science buildings."

Lynden Spencer-Allen
Ramboll Project Director

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