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Liverpool hub members work on UK’s first concrete dome in 25 years

2 June 2020

Construction on track at Jodrell Bank Observatory new visitor centre.

Andy Logan, the CIOB Liverpool Hub vice-chair, and member Ryan Southern are among the team responsible for work that has started on the First Light Pavilion, a new visitor centre at the Jodrell Bank observatory in Cheshire. It will be the first concrete dome construction in the UK for over 25 years.

Logan works as a consultancy manager at CE Building Control & Land Charges Service – the building control service at Cheshire East Council – part of the LABC network of 3,000 surveyors across the UK. Southern is the senior site manager with Kier Construction.

The visitor centre development follows the completion of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Headquarters at Jodrell Bank. Jodrell Bank was founded in 1945 and forms part of Manchester University. It became a World Heritage Site in January 2018.

Development of the visitor centre has been 11 years in the making. The total project value of £20.5m has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport with additional funding from central government.

The exterior (top) and interior (above) of the First Light Pavilion

Manchester University appointed Hassell for the design of the pavilion, maintaining the working relationship already built between the company and Cheshire East’s building control team.

Contractor Kier has developed bespoke construction techniques for the dome and plans an 18-month delivery programme.

The visitor centre will house a new exhibition and engagement space, incorporating the original fabric of the 1957 dish of the telescope, an auditorium devoted to displaying immersive digital presentations, an education hub and a new cafe.

The building will be fully grassed over to submerge into the surroundings of the Cheshire countryside, with cut-outs located for an entrance foyer and exterior seating area for the cafe.

The circumference of the dome will be an exact match to that of the Lovell Telescope and will offer 745 sq m of floor space, reaching 7m at its highest point. It’s estimated that a total of 1,800 cu m of concrete will be used during construction. 

Substructure works have continued during the lockdown period, with the building control team carrying out essential inspections of foundations, drainage and ground floor prep-arations, using video inspections for other elements.

The fully managed inspection framework is allowing progress to continue and ensures stage by stage compliance with requirements while following government guidance and social distancing restrictions.

Construction is currently moving at pace, with completion due in 2021.