Cavendish III, University of Cambridge

Artist impression of aerial view of Cavendish III and Shared Facilities Hub design, University of Cambridge. Image: Jestico + Whiles

Artist impression of aerial view of Cavendish III and Shared Facilities Hub design, University of Cambridge. Image: Jestico + Whiles


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

Lynden Spencer-Allen

Technical Director
T: +44 7436 542 678


Cavendish III will be the new home of the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge. The department has a long and distinguished history including 29 Nobel Laureates.

The Cavendish Laboratory has been home to the Department of Physics since 1874 when it was founded in the centre of Cambridge. In the 1970’s it moved to the West Cambridge site and in 2022 will move into a new purpose-built building named Cavendish III. 

The department is one of the most prominent Physics research institutions in the world and is renowned for fundamental discoveries such as the discovery of the electron and the structure of DNA. Its research is varied and covers the whole range of Physics related disciplines.

With a gross internal area of around 33,000sqm, Cavendish III will provide state-of-the-art facilities for research and teaching, housing a range of laboratories, offices, clean rooms, workshops and multiple lecture theatres. A 4,700sqm shared facilities hub will provide catering, collaborative teaching, meeting, study and library spaces to the campus.

Ramboll has been involved with the department since 2014, working with them to define the technical brief for the building. We were then awarded the civil, structural and vibration engineering design commission for the project, working for University of Cambridge. We are also responsible for the acoustic and fire engineering design through the architects, Jestico + Whiles.

Achieving a highly stable environment for investigations at the atomic levels poses numerous technical challenges. Specifically, the level of vibration control has demanded special consideration. Not only did this drive the engineering design but it was a fundamental part of the architectural concept. Ramboll’s engineers worked very closely with Jestico + Whiles to develop a building massing and layout of spaces that achieved the technical, usability and aesthetic requirements in a simple, logical way. In achieving this goal, the design offers flexibility for the future as well as good value for money.

The vibration criterion is the most onerous and achieving vibration levels as low as VC-H requires special consideration of all vibration sources inside and outside the building. We carried out extensive vibration surveys across the site coupled with vibration specific ground investigation and vibration measurements at depth in boreholes. 

Using this data to inform our vibration modelling allowed our experience-based conceptual design to be tested and refined to demonstrate the most economical way of achieving the criteria whilst maintaining flexibility for future changes in requirements.

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. 

As well as computer modelling, a proof of concept series of tests was carried out on specially cast slabs prior to construction. These validated the vibration improvement expected giving further confidence that the solution would achieve the requirements.

As part of the early design process, precedent projects were studied and visited. Ramboll’s experience in delivering projects such as the National Graphene Institute, University of Manchester, Materials Science and Metallurgy Building, University of Cambridge, as well as the Niels Bohr Building in Copenhagen, has been important in developing a robust design strategy, building on previous proven concepts.

The similarities in size and technical requirements of the Niels Bohr Building and Cavendish III were drawn upon by the team; a number of knowledge-sharing events were organised between the teams. Specifically, the Cavendish III project team and scientists visited the Niels Bohr Building to understand the design and strategies developed and benefit from lessons learned.

The project is being procured through a two stage develop and construct route, with contractor Bouygues UK developing Ramboll’s civil, structural and vibration engineering design through RIBA Stage 4 and into construction.  The original project team has been retained by University of Cambridge in a client monitoring role, reviewing the development of the design and ensuring quality is maintained. Ramboll has also been appointed by University of Cambridge to undertake a resident engineer role for the civil, structural and vibration engineering aspects during construction.

The Cavendish III project is currently in the construction phase and is aiming to complete in 2022.

Related News

Cavendish III receives major funding boost

The Dolby family donates £85m to one of the most prominent Physics research institutions in the world, representing the largest philanthropic donation ever made to UK science.

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