Cavendish III set to dig deep to achieve low level vibration

1 April 2019
Basement excavation begins at the site of University of Cambridge’s Cavendish III physics laboratory, a key element in Ramboll’s ultra-low vibration design for the facility.
Aerial view of basement excavation. Image: AERO Drone Surveys

Aerial view of basement excavation. Image: AERO Drone Surveys


Ramboll. Lynden Spencer-Allen. Image courtesy of Paulina Sobczak Photography

Lynden Spencer-Allen

Technical Director
T: +44 7436 542 678

Three months after the ground-breaking ceremony marked the start of works at the state-of-the-art physics laboratory and a neighbouring Shared Facilities Hub, basement excavation is set to begin. The basement area will incorporate specialist acoustic and vibration treatments to achieve the stringent control criteria necessary for operating equipment highly sensitive to vibration. 

The development, at the West Cambridge campus off Madingley Road, will provide a purpose-built centre for world-leading physics research, bringing together all the Cavendish Laboratory’s research groups under one roof. 

Ramboll developed the civil, structural and vibration engineering concept for Cavendish III and neighbouring hub. 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 was a fundamental part of the architectural concept. Ramboll’s expertise in this area was critical to guide the design and develop the concept to achieve the requirements. 

Achieving vibration levels as low as VC-H requires special consideration of all vibration sources inside and outside the building. 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. Find out more about Ramboll's vibration design here.

The flagship building of Cavendish III will be named the Ray Dolby Centre, in recognition of a £75 million gift from the estate of sound pioneer Ray Dolby. The development has also been made possible by £75 million of funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

With a gross internal area of around 33,000 sqm, Cavendish III will house a range of laboratories, offices, clean rooms, workshops and multiple lecture theatres. As well as stringent vibration control, there are also challenging criteria to be met in relation to temperature and humidity control and EMI (electromagnetic interference) protection. The 4,700 sqm Shared Facilities Hub will provide catering, collaborative teaching, meeting, study and library spaces to the campus.

Beyond the technical aspects, particular attention has been paid to the environment, with both buildings designed to achieve a BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) Excellent rating.

The project will help strengthen the University’s position as a leading site for physics research and will provide a top-class facility for the nation, with much of the research equipment made available to other institutions. The building has been designed to encourage collaboration and will host public events to support the extensive programme of work with schools, and the general public.

The new facility is expected to be completed in 2022.

Lynden Spencer-Allen, Ramboll Project Director, comments: "We are very excited the project has reached this significant milestone and construction and realisation is progressing. 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."


There is a panel discussion on the design of low-vibration buildings, including Cavendish III, at S-Lab on April 2nd in session G5, 16:30-17:10.

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