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Balfour overcomes tight timetable for award-winning project’s M&E

Balfour Beatty Engineering Services has provided the £13 million M&E package for the Stirling-Prize winning science laboratory in Cambridge.

Designed by architects Stanton Williams, The Sainsbury Laboratory is an 11,000 sq m, two-storey plant science research centre set in the University of Cambridge’s Botanic Garden.

Aside from the complex systems the team needed to install, BBES also had to integrate sustainability initiatives and technologies into a building that has a high energy requirement, as well as manage the demands of a very tight build programme.

Sophisticated controls

“Getting the design right was the initial challenge, and then it was about sticking to the tight build programme,” BBES regional director Mike Harris says.

“The complex systems were the ventilation for the lab and the BMS. The BMS was very sophisticated because of the nature of the building; it’s connected to the lighting controls and fire alarms as well as the other systems in the building.”

BBES’s M&E installation, completed for main contractor Kier, included the installation of fume cupboards, ventilation, chilled water, heating, BMS controls, air conditioning, lighting, power and security systems, as well as the PV panels and photocell-controlled electric lighting.

“Getting the design right was the initial challenge, and then it was about sticking to the tight build programme”

Mike Harris, BBES

One aspect that further compounded the already tight build programme was that the plant was not scheduled to come in until quite late in the process, while the team also had to contend with the British winter weather.

“We had to work around quite heavy snow, which put us under some pressure considering the already tight programme and we had to recover the time lost,” Mr Harris says.

“When the programme is being implemented things don’t always go to plan on site – we sometimes need to adapt and tweak the processes, but being dynamic and flexible is one of the keys to the success of the programme and the project.”

Offsite work offers multiple benefits

One way in which the team addressed the timing challenges was to use offsite construction where possible. This method not only reduces time onsite, but also cuts waste and increases the quality of the components, as they can all be fully tested before being delivered to site.

BBES used its modular systems and facility to deliver and install the plant room and 18 prefabricated risers. These risers contained modules for ductwork and pipework, which form a continuous ribbon around the L-shaped building.  

The architect was aiming for a clean and uncluttered feel throughout the building, meaning the extensive M&E services had to be designed and installed into very tight ceiling spaces.

“The nature of the building was very complex and even more so on this project, as lots of the M&E was on show; most of the time the M&E systems are hidden away so this added even more pressure,” Mr Harris says.

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