Sep 17, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

Research centre helps position Cranfield Uni at forefront of aerospace research and training

Published in Upfront
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The Aerospace Integration Research Centre (AIRC) for Cranfield University in Bedford, located on the perimeter of the airport, is a landmark building delivered in partnership with Rolls-Royce and Airbus.


Nottingham and London-based CPMG Architects was asked to design a state-of-the-art research centre that would help to change the design of future aircraft. The final design needed to bring academic research and the testing of new ideas by co-investment partners Rolls-Royce and Airbus within a purpose-built setting under one roof.

The building, for which groundwork began in 2015 and was completed in February 2017, includes open laboratory space with a 40m clear span capable of housing large airframe integration projects.

Today, the £12.5m flagship centre is already helping to change the future design of aircraft. The three-storey interpretation of a modern-day hangar offers advanced facilities for the centre's researchers, engineers as well as its partner companies.

Hugh Avison, Director at CPMG, said: “We were thrilled to be selected by Cranfield University to design and deliver this unique project. The new building will bring researchers and manufacturers together to help drive forward innovation in engineering and design – not only is this a significant development for the university, but for the future of manufacturing in aerospace and transport.

“We made sure the designs for the facility not only met the brief to provide the space and functionality that was needed but also reflected the university’s strong architectural identity, which already has a number of flagship buildings. Our design was selected from a number of competitors as we portrayed the strength of the university’s academic research within the architecture of the building,” Hugh added.

Tracy Flynn, Development Manager at Cranfield University, said: “CPMG’s approach to developing this unique building combined flair and individuality which ensures that the spaces within the building really work and are simple to maintain. This project has helped to position us at the forefront of aerospace research and training in Europe.”

Professor Iain Gray CBE, Director of Aerospace at Cranfield University, said: “Work at the centre will focus on the development of new integrated propulsion, airframe and subsystems technologies with resulting benefits in the performance, emission control and efficiency targets of future aircraft.

“The AIRC will foster close collaboration between leading researchers, the centre partners and the wider aerospace supply chain. It will directly contribute to the competitiveness and prosperity of the aerospace industry and the wider UK and European economy.”

Since completion, CPMG’s design team behind the AIRC has been recognised for delivering exceptional building designs which have had a positive impact on communities. The flagship scheme scooped the East of England Design Through Innovation Award on 11th May 2018 and an additional award at the LABC East Awards in the Best Large Commercial Building award category.

Speaking of the award success, Nick Gregory, Director at CPMG, said: “Cranfield University’s AIRC is a flagship scheme that we were very proud to be involved in. Congratulations to everyone involved in helping to make this scheme such a success, it’s been a fantastic collaborative effort.”

The external facade is primarily built up of three facing components. Firstly, both east and west elevations have large expanses of Kawneer curtain walling to offer visibility to the entrance lightwell and the high bay area at the rear of the building. A curved Kalzip outer skin then encases the three-storey accommodation, forming the roof and part of the upper accommodation walls. Aluminium rainscreen cladding finishes the first floor elevations towards the north and south, expressed in two different forms. Three-storey-high yellow canopies to the east and west accompany grey rainscreen cladding to encase and express the structure.

A triple-height ‘high bay area’ contains specialist avionics, thermals, mechanical, electrical and structural laboratories. The public face of the building is provided by a glazed triple-height IDEAS (integration, demonstration, engineering, analysis and simulation) space, which was designed for collaborative research, visualisations of simulations and designing, as well as an air traffic management laboratory using the airport control tower and flight simulator. This will provide a showcase for the university and its partners, accommodating exhibitions and conferencing, as well as informal meeting areas. Adjacent areas introduce space for manufacturers to conduct private research, alongside office space, and meeting rooms for the university research team and partners. There is a variety of laboratory spaces for intelligent automation, aerospace autonomy and an open area of 1500m².

Other internal spaces include state-of-the-art simulation facilities on the second floor. Researchers and engineers from Cranfield and its partner companies work closely together in an open-plan office environment on the top floor. The building is equipped with the latest cutting-edge research technology and aims to change the way the world thinks about flight. There were several challenges during the development; the first was during construction, sourcing a thermally-efficient 18m-span by 6m-high bi-fold door that met the required airtightness value and U-values. This was required by the client, as they needed the flexibility to open up the high bay area to the airfield, to allow small planes to be housed within the new building. Thermal constraints, coupled with the allowable deflection of a 38m clear span structure, took time to source and detail but the result is fantastic and gives immense flexibility for the client.

The project team for AIRC was RG Carter, main contractor; Couch Perry Wilkes, mechanical and electrical consultant; Stewart Morris Partnership, structural engineer; Currie & Brown, project manager and Gardiner & Theobald, quantity surveyor.

The AIRC project’s funding consisted of co-funding from Airbus and Rolls-Royce, HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) and investment from Cranfield itself. The project has helped to position Cranfield University at the forefront of aerospace research and training in Europe. The building betters the requirements of Part L 2013 by 25%, whilst achieving an EPC ‘A’ rating and achieved a BREEAM rating of ‘Excellent’.

Nick Gregory added: “The success of the AIRC centre has led to further opportunities to work with Cranfield University on its ambitious plans to provide world-class research and learning facilities.”

CPMG Architects will continue to work with Cranfield University on its ambitious plans to provide world-class research and learning facilities, helping to develop its estate further through additional design work for a new agri-informatics building, a water sciences building with pilot hall and fire station on the campus airfield.

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