Me and my project: David Dixon, Interserve

17 August 2017 | By David Dixon, Interserve

Image: Jill Tate

Interserve has completed a new £11.5m research centre for the Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics at Durham University. Project manager David Dixon talks CM through the challenge.

David Dixon

“This unusual project saw my team construct a highly bespoke three storey in-situ concrete framed building with an unusual geometry and very high specification for the university,” explains Dixon.

“The completed building provides more than 2,400 sq m of floor space, offering 80 new offices for professors, lecturers, doctoral and postdoctoral students, support staff and visiting academics.

“This innovative project required teamwork, outstanding construction standards, engineering precision and diligent quality control.

“We won the contract to build the Centre through competitive tender. Pre-appointment, a comprehensive value engineering exercise was carried out to reduce the cost of the initial budget including further surveys that allowed a more accurate estimate of quantity and cost of contaminated ground.

“We then began on site using a CFA piled foundation solution, which was designed to mitigate vibration to the surrounding building where highly sensitive equipment was housed.

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“The in-situ concrete frame of the building was a critical element, not only because its unique shape demanded that the dimensions had to be ‘to the millimetre’ accurate, but also because the project features a lot of exposed concrete. For example, the soffit is exposed concrete as are a mix of angled and circular columns. No external wall is truly vertical.

“Offsite bespoke manufactured rolls of reinforcement steel were introduced into the frame design that improved the programme for erecting the frame and reduced manual handling on site.

“The building’s facade was then constructed, which was exciting for me to see. The structure to carry the facade took the form of a combination of hot rolled steelwork bolted to the frame, and cold rolled steel fixed to the frame. Again, the angles of the building’s facade presented a challenge.

Image: Jill Tate

“Precise setting-out was required, to tie in with the overlapping facades and interfaces. To fix the hot rolled steelwork, the bolts used had to pass all the way through the concrete slabs, which meant drilling core holes through the slab before fixing bolts in place.

“To accommodate this process, our steelwork subcontractor manufactured purpose-made jigs, fixed to the frame that had holes at exactly the right angles, so that when core drilling took place, the holes through the slab could be made at exactly the right angle, in exactly the right position.

“Once the lightweight steel framing system was installed, cementitious board was then used with required membranes. Sustainably sourced larch from Scotland was then used for the building’s external cladding, fixed to a timber sub-frame.

“The roof, which has a plant room on it, is a single ply membrane on top of insulation, laid to falls into a ‘syphonic’ drainage system. This system of drainage is designed around suction rather than gravity. The system was required due to constraints brought about by the depth of ceilings and room layouts.

“I’m very pleased to be able to report that the completed building has excellent environmental credentials, having achieved BREEAM ‘Excellent’ and an EPC ‘A’ rating. Its roof features photovoltaic arrays, and ground source heat pumps have also been deployed. Rainwater harvesting has been used, and all light fittings are LED.

“This innovative project required outstanding construction standards. The whole project has definitely been a real highlight of my career.”

David Dixon

“80% of our subcontractors for the scheme were located within a 40-mile radius of the project. We were able to create eight apprenticeships, including two young engineers working directly for us and six others working within our supply chain. At its busiest times, there were circa 80 people working on the site.

“I had to manage work on what proved to be a very ‘tight’ site with little space around the building.  With thousands of students walking next to the site and across the site entrance each day, detailed logistics plans had to be robustly implemented and managed. Good communication with the client was essential with deliveries of materials to the minute to ensure no impact on students’ day-to-day movements.

“During construction, we engaged fully with the local community, which included schools, technical colleges and the university through open days and presentations in order to give everyone an insight into the project.

“A primary school in Durham took the opportunity to have pupils attend a site visit during which the company’s site team showed them what was happening. I was particularly proud that the Considerate Constructors scheme scores were above the industry standard, with what I would call ‘glowing’ comments given on the whole project and the way it was managed. The whole project has definitely been a real highlight of my career so far.”

The project won the Constructing Excellence North East Building Project of the Year award.

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