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Hassell's Square Kilometre Array global HQ gets the green light

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Council planners have accepted a proposal designed by Hassell for £16.5m cosmology research headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory

Cheshire East Council’s planning committee approved the practice’s proposals to add to the existing Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBS)-designed base near Macclesfield in Cheshire. 

The £16.5m project will provide a new single-storey global headquarters for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, providing research and office space and a council chamber for the international research group. 

The SKA will create world’s largest radio telescope at two sites in Australia and South Africa and will allow scientists to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail. The project is supported by 10 countries – Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

The SKA is based at the Jodrell Bank Observatory, home to the iconic Grade I-listed Lovell Telescope. Measuring 76m in diameter, the Lovell Telescope was the only device powerful enough in 1957 to track the rocket that carried Sputnik.

According to Hassell, the design of the extension is inspired by the radio waves ‘at the heart of the SKA’s work’. 

The scheme is backed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the University of Manchester, with donations from Cheshire East Council.

Oliver Kampshoff, principal architect at Hassell, said: ‘The SKA headquarters is an extremely high-tech building, surrounded by farmland and so the design plays on the contrast between the cutting-edge science taking place within the building and the rural life taking place around it.’ 

Work is expected to start on site in late 2016, with a completion date scheduled for around late 2017. 

FCBS has a long-standing involvement with the world-famous site and completed the ‘Planet’ and ‘Space’ pavilions for the £3 million visitor centre Discovery Centre in 2011. It also designed the Star Pavilion for the centre, which opened in 2015. 

The firm also drew up concept plans for the £19 million First Light visitor centre, which is seeking another architect to take the scheme forward, and is refurbishing and extending the observatory building on the site. 

In addition, FCBS was originally involved in creating a scheme for the SKA extension; however it was tendered with Hassell. 

Kampshoff, who previously worked at FCBS on projects at the site, moved to Hassell in 2015. Kampshoff told the AJ that he joined Hassell because it is at an ’interesting phase’ of its development and ’asked me to become part of that journey’.

FCBS was appointed to draw up a masterplan – and to design a number of new buildings – for the observatory grounds by the University of Manchester’s Centre for Astrophysics in 2009.  

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