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Project of the Year (£20m to £50m): Winner

Winner: Willmott Dixon – Met Office Supercomputer, Exeter

When you think of a supercomputer, do you imagine the striking architectural merits of the building that holds it? Or do you imagine the economic benefit it will bring to the country?

Perhaps the long-lasting contribution it will make to the world’s response to climate change?

If the answer to these questions is no, then the Met Office’s supercomputer building, inspired by the film Tron and built by Willmott Dixon, could be about to change your mind.

Willmott started work in September 2015 on a job that the Met Office says will not only deliver £2bn of economic benefit to the UK over the next five years, but will dramatically improve weather forecasting here and around the world by more accurately predicting rainfall.

So the lasting effects are clear, and while this meant pressure to deliver a complex building on time, it was also a hugely technically challenging project, involving a cantilevered structure leaning at 60 degrees.

For Willmott Dixon, it became its first complete BIM Level 2 project, without which the team says the complex engineering would never have been achieved.

“The delivery of this unique building – despite significant changes in scope – makes it an exemplar project for the merits of BIM and digital design”

Judges’ comment

Having joined the NEC3 project at the end of RIBA Stage 3/start of Stage 4, Willmott Dixon was faced with significant design changes requested by the Met Office, with both buildings becoming steel-framed (having been conceived as concrete) and new roofing and cladding solutions designed.

Then, during construction, came every contractor’s worst nightmare. The Met Office learned a processor for the supercomputer, one of the world’s 25 most powerful, would not be ready in time, meaning infrastructure that had already been installed would have to be ripped out and started again.

The contractor led collaboration workshops with the client’s engineers and its design and supply chain partners to come up with a new solution, but also to tackle the manufacturing and sequencing issues that arose from its structural frame and curtain walling, caused by the 60-degree incline.

The project was completed on time and to budget, with the judges also hailing the excellent health and safety record. The contractor’s approach to local spending and employment drew similar praise, as did its use of apprentices on site

It has also left a legacy by being a test case for the wider Willmott Dixon group when it recruited a Masters Sustainability student from the nearby Exeter University, who analysed all site movements to demonstrate how carbon could be saved if people, for example, shared cars and held meetings via the internet.

The results of this analysis have now been implemented across the group, adding to the legacy of this exemplar project.


  • Costain: Dover Sea Wall
  • Hanson UK / Dorset County Council Strategic Partnership: A338 Bournemouth Spur Road
  • ISG: Dyson Expansion, Malmesbury
  • McLaren Construction / Essential Living: Vantage Point, London
  • Multiplex Construction Europe: LSQ London
  • Structure Tone: Ogilvy Group and MEC Headquarters, London
  • Vinci Construction UK: Spire Hospital, Manchester

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