The sky’s the limit

Kawneer’s AA100 zone-drained curtain walling and three types of doors were selected by CPMG architects for the £12.5 million Aerospace Integration Research Centre (AIRC) at Cranfield University in Bedfordshire.

Cranfield is the only university in Europe to combine major aerospace research facilities such as the AIRC with an operational airport and runway.

The Kawneer curtain walling panes of 3m x 1.3m, and AA720 doors, series 190 heavy-duty commercial entrance doors, and AA3720 bifold doors, were installed on the steel-frame structure over eight months by a team of four from approved dealer Drayton Windows for main contractor and their parent company RG Carter.

The 3,400m2 AIRC is one of Cranfield’s newest world-class facilities and is of international significance. Co-funded by Airbus, Rolls-Royce, government and the university, industry and academia work together under one roof on cutting-edge research.

Facilities include a flight simulator and laboratories for air traffic management, unmanned aerial vehicles, a virtual wind tunnel, a Fanuc robot in the intelligent automation centre, and a 1,500m2 open laboratory with 18m x 6m sliding doors to give access for demonstrator aircraft such as the university’s 19-seater Jetstream 31.

CPMG’s brief was for a state-of-the-art research centre that will help to change the design of future aircraft, bringing academic research and the testing of new ideas by the co-funders. The resulting design is a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ three-storey interpretation of a modern hangar.

The BIM Level 2 designed accommodation comprised a triple-height entrance atrium and high bay area containing avionics, thermals, mechanical, electrical and structural laboratories, and the second largest gantry crane in Europe using the only ‘Mega’ lift jacking system available in the UK.

Covered laboratories between these triple-height spaces offer the opportunity for further controlled research. Two further floors of accommodation arranged above the covered laboratories include visualisation and simulation suites, open-plan office areas and university meeting areas. Views from these upper floors benefit from an aspect that overlooks the high bay area and entrance atrium, showcasing aerospace research and providing collaborative working environments. The building includes exposed concrete soffits for thermal mass and photovoltaics for renewable energy generation.

CPMG associate lead Aiden Bell said: “We specified the Kawneer systems as they could achieve the tight U-values and required design criteria for two curtain walling systems that were 38m wide x 13m high. Both east and west elevations have large expanses of the Kawneer curtain walling to offer visibility to the entrance lightwell and the high bay area at the rear of the building. It allowed the interior aspects of the atrium and high bay area to be showcased.

“The university’s commitment to sustainability in general and to a better performance on environmental issues is a fundamental part of its strategic vision. All major developments must be to the highest possible energy standards, achieve BREEAM Excellent, and have minimal carbon impact. The latest technology and innovative solutions to minimise heat gains and maximise lighting and natural ventilation are implemented.”

The AIRC has won a LABC national award for Best Large Commercial Project and a Rics East award for Design through Innovation.