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EU set for 'switch building' boom

Sheppard Robson is in talks with engineer Buro Happold and UK interior fit-out contractor Churchfield in a bid to swoop on a new £20 billion building boom triggered by a surge in European Internet traffic.

The astonishing figure is Churchfield's estimate of two years'demand in Europe for a new breed of buildings to house the giant computers which power the web.

These so-called 'switch buildings' are large, high-security complexes situated on the edge of cities which house data and channel Internet traffic.

Sheppard Robson approached Buro Happold and Churchfield in an attempt to grab a slice of this niche market earlier this year.They have since been drawing up plans for quick assembly, high-tech switch buildings for which they say demand is growing exponentially as more and more users log onto the Internet and business use grows. The prototype design will be complete within weeks and is described by the architects as a 'posh shed'.

'From an architectural perspective this is a very lucrative market, ' said Sheppard Robson's Nick Forwood.

'When you are commissioned for one building you do a dozen because the clients have enormous budgets, £500 million for example.'The prototype design will be used to roll out a number of switch buildings at once and the buildings will be identical except for their scale.

Potential clients include communication giants such as NTL, Nortel, and Cable & Wireless. These providers of the fibre-optic cables which carry Internet signals are now rushing to set up switch buildings outside all the major European cities.

Churchfield's Mark Gurney estimated there is room in the market for around 10 providers of the specialist buildings, and, if only a half of estimated demand is satisfied, the consortium could command a £1 billion market share.

Similar switch buildings already exist in the US to protect the essential computer equipment with features such as high-strength Kevlar walls, palm recognition door locks and retina scanners to identify staff.Sheppard Robson is using the expertise of its US sister practice, Sheppard Robson Corgan, to help develop the European prototype.

Latest figures show that London is the European city with the highest capacity for US-related Internet traffic, followed by Amsterdam and Brussels.

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