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SKA Global Headquarters

Artist impression of the new SKA Headquarters at Jodrell Bank by night. Credit: HASSELL

Introduction

The SKA Global Headquarters will be the home of the SKA Observatory, the intergovernmental organisation set up to build and operate the Square Kilometre Array, the world’s largest radio telescope. Home to some 135 staff from around the world, it will be tasked with managing the construction and remotely monitoring the operation of the telescope, itself located in southern Africa and Western Australia.

Background

The process for selecting the permanent headquarters began in 2014 when, following an agreed plan, members of SKA Organisation were invited to submit bids. Two bids were received, from Italy and the United Kingdom, both of which were judged to be excellent and both suitable for the project’s needs. After thorough consideration, the Members of the SKA Organisation expressed their preference for the United Kingdom’s Jodrell Bank site as the future home for the SKA headquarters, thanks to the strong package offered by the UK government.

The UK plan was backed by the UK government via the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the University of Manchester and Cheshire East Council, as well as Oxford and Cambridge Universities, to design and construct a unique campus for one of the most inspirational science projects of the 21st Century.

Site

The SKA Observatory’s Global Headquarters will share a common site with the University of Manchester’s existing Jodrell Bank Observatory and Discovery Centre. Jodrell Bank Observatory – part of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics under University of Manchester’s School of Physics & Astronomy – is a working scientific facility. It operates the Grade-I listed 76-metre Lovell Telescope (jointly funded by the University of Manchester & STFC) – the third largest steerable radio telescope in the world – and a distributed network of 6 additional radio telescopes that form the UK’s e-MERLIN Radio Astronomy National Facility. e-MERLIN also regularly operates as part of the renowned European VLBI Network (EVN). The historical observatory was initially established in 1945 by Sir Bernard Lovell to investigate cosmic rays after his work on radar during the Second World War. It has since played an important role in a number of fields, including the study of meteors, quasars, pulsars, masers and gravitational lenses, and was heavily involved with the tracking of space probes at the start of the Space Age. As such, Jodrell Bank has been a leader in radio astronomy for over 70 years and is now on the UK shortlist for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

The Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre is responsible for public access to and engagement with both the science and heritage of Jodrell Bank. It is a renowned national and global leader in engaging the public with science and has a central focus on ‘inspiring the scientists of the future’ – which represents the start of the pipeline for skills in STEM. The Centre currently attracts around 165,000 visitors each year, including 22,000 school pupils on educational visits, and has ambitious plans for expansion supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Concept

The new SKA Global Headquarters will be reflective of one of the most innovative science research organisations in the world. An inspirational building that reflects the science and vision behind the SKA project and that fosters a culture of collaboration and communication. The unique character and history of Jodrell Bank presents an opportunity to create an inspirational workplace and the global headquarters for the SKA organisation at the home of radio astronomy.

Whilst acknowledging and celebrating the physical and historical context of the place, the building aims to create its own distinctive identity and unique architecture that represents the SKA organisation and the science behind the SKA project. The proposed design takes inspiration from the radio waves that are at the heart of the SKA’s work while embracing its natural environment, playing on the contrast between the cutting edge science taking place within the building and the rural life taking place around it.

HQ2 entrance impression

Artist impression of the entrance of the new SKA Headquarters. Credit: HASSELL

Phases

The headquarters design team have been following the RIBA Plan of Work, which is the definitive UK model for the building design and construction process. Below is an up-to-date version of the SKA’s RIBA timeline, which indicates a number of key project stages throughout the design and construction process. As of August 2016, the project has signed off Stage 3 of the RIBA report and has advanced into Stage 4, Technical Design.

RIBA progressMilestones

  • Q1 2018 – completion

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Design Team

  • Sir Robert MacAlpine Main Contractor, Principal Designer, Cost Planner
  • HASSELL Architect, Lead Designer
  • Plan IT Landscape Architect
  • WYG Structural & Civil Engineer, Highways, BREEAM, Ecology, SI
  • Mott MacDonald Mechanical & Electrical Engineer, Specialist IT
  • Hann Tucker Acoustic Engineer
  • Jeremy Gardner Fire Engineer
  • Versatile Partnership Catering Specialist

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Funding

The £16.5 million new SKA Headquarters is funded by the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (£9.8M) and the University of Manchester (£5.7M) with contributions from Cheshire East Council (£1M).

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The SKA Headquarters at Jodrell Bank

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An aerial view of the current SKA Headquarters at Jodrell Bank before the start of construction works on the new HQ.