CUBRIC Building, Cardiff University

World leading brain research facilities completed safely on programme

Any construction team aims to be environmentally responsible, complete their scheme safely and on time, and leave behind a world class building for a satisfied client. That’s what BAM achieved for Cardiff University in delivering the world class Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC).

Research carried out at the centre, which opened in Spring 2016, is helping scientists understand the causes of brain conditions such as dementia, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis.

Project details

  • Customer: Cardiff University
  • Architects: IBI Group
  • Quantity Surveyor: CAPITA
  • Services Engineer: Arup
  • Structural Engineer: HLN Engineering
  • Value: £18m

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40 Fact icon Tonnes the weight of the 7T MRI scanner
6,500 Fact icon tonnes weight of the concrete superstructure for the CUBRIC building
5,900m Fact icon length of the 68,000 bricks used which, if stacked on top of each other, would reach the same height as Kilimanjaro

Four times more space created in just 64 weeks

CUBRIC was the second phase of the University’s Science and Innovation Campus at Maindy Road in Cardiff. The highly-serviced project had a tight programme, a high profile, and the first 3 Tesla Microstructure MRI scanner in Europe - the second of its type in the world.

The new building is four times larger than the old facility, meaning staff from different departments now benefit from being housed under one roof, allowing for increased collaboration and innovation.

The facility provides a mix of medical research, including an NHS standard medical suite with drug trial unit and specialist MRI and Magnetoencephalography (MEG) scanning suites, laboratories, office accommodation and large seminar facilities with outside garden terrace.

“In theory, it’s a simple box, but the building had to be future proof.” says construction manager Justin Price. “We've installed demountable curtain walling to the scanner areas which allows the University to move large equipment in and out as their research grows, without affecting the building fabric. We also absorbed several client changes without changing the handover date.”

The team used waterproof plasterboard in the risers. “By using waterproof plasterboard, we were able to get our M&E subcontractors in before the whole building was water tight. That’s a three to four week save on the programme. Waterproof plasterboard costs a bit more but the overall saving is worth it.”

As well as housing a 7 Tesla MRI scanner, two other MRI scanners and a MEG scanner, the building will home include a 3 Tesla Microstructure scanner which will use 24 megawatts of power, as much as a fast attack submarine. “We had to move the low voltage power cables to the other side of the site as the electric magnetic field would affect the scanners,” says Justin.

Communicating with a team across the Atlantic was also a challenge. “The MEG scanner was designed by a Canadian company,” he says. “We had extensive talks with those scientists to understand the requirements for the scanner to work effectively here.”

A quarter of a million man hours, accident free

The CUBRIC team won the Western Region’s Health & Safety Award 2015 for their proactive approach to safety and achieving 245,000 incident-free man hours.

‘We promoted Don’t Walk By on site, constantly challenging the safety aspects of the works and carrying out any corrective actions,’ says Justin.

Safety took centre stage at weekly progress meetings throughout construction. “We introduced a red and yellow card system to deal with unacceptable safety behaviours while rewarding good safety practices with a free breakfast for the weekly winner.”
A high risk part of the project was working with live electrical services within the highway and at adjacent buildings. The works were managed through Permit to Work Systems, resulting in 5,500 man hours in trenches without an incident.

Groundworks and ground conditions were considered at an early stage of the tender leading not only to safer methods of working, but also, to de-risking the build financially and reducing the risk of programme delays.

GRP moulded grating was used in the risers. The grating was installed as part of the concrete frame, thereby avoiding the need for edge protection. Made by hand using fibreglass rovings and resin, it was then cured to give the grating bi-directional strength. “Incorporating the moulded grating, which is strong enough to take the load of several men, meant BAM eliminated the risk of falling through the risers. Our M&E subcontractors then cut the mesh to size to fit the services through. The grating is made in a continuous run without the fibres ever being broken, so small and medium cut outs of the grating do not affect the panel.”

Respecting the building’s neighbours and using local companies

The building’s proximity to local residents led to windows on one side being limited, while open courtyard spaces were created so that the majority of spaces looked into the courtyard rather than the street. Local people looked around the scheme as part of the UK’s Open Doors week.

“Working on this project enabled BAM to continue our support of the local agenda and we are proud that we placed 24 out of the 32 sub-contract orders (75%) within a 30-mile radius of the site.”

Tim Chell

Regional Director

Energy hungry, but still BREEAM Excellent

As well as making the building scanner-ready, Ian and his team successfully targeted a BREEAM Excellent rating. “We’ve got photovoltaics and a sedum roof, and have installed rainwater harvesting. While this doesn’t quite make up for the energy-hungry scanners, these features will make a difference."

BAM retained 100% of the soil and stone on site by moving and re-using the 7500 cubic metres of crushed fill material to refill and level the entire construction site. The exercise saved £100,000, reduced the need to import stone, and therefore reduced deliveries causing fewer nuisances to neighbours.

The Building also achieved an EPC ‘A’ rating.

Buildings are ultimately about people

Justin Price: “There’s been a lot of interest from around the world as CUBRIC will have several powerful brain imaging scanners all in one place.” explains Justin. “It’s essentially going to improve how doctors and scientists understand the brain, and associated diseases such as MS and dementia, so it’s a pretty big deal.”

No more so than for David Humphrey, design manager for BAM Construction.

David, 40, from Newport, South Wales, works in BAM Construction’s Cardiff office and was Design Manager for CUBRIC. David has Multiple Sclerosis and is taking part in an ongoing CUBRIC research study – funded by MS Society through being a volunteer at The Helen Durham Centre for Neuroinflammatory Disease at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.

He said: “It’s good to be involved in CUBRIC and to be able to give something back and help with MS research. I got involved because I hope it will one day help people.” David has had MS for eight years and first became aware there was a problem when he started suffering from numbness. He didn’t know the cause but underwent an MRI scan and was diagnosed with MS. “It doesn’t affect me most of the time but it comes and goes. When it comes back it can be bad. I’ve lost my eyesight before and been unable to focus. I also can get numbness in the fingers and the hands. Most of the time I just get on with life,” he said.

The CUBRIC building was officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen on 7 June 2016 and David was introduced to her.

It’s not just David, but everybody who has a stake in the success of the CUBRIC building and the work that is now being done there.