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The Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. Oxford. UK

Client
University of Oxford Estates Directorate
Services
Building Construction Engineering Expertise
Value
£40 million
Project partners
Herzog & de Meuron

The Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. Oxford. UK

The Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. Oxford. UK

The Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. Oxford. UK

The Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. Oxford. UK

The Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. Oxford. UK

The Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. Oxford. UK

Full project details

The first purpose-built centre of its kind in the UK, the Blavatnik School of Government will provide tomorrow’s political leaders and policy makers with world-class educational facilities. Designed to encourage collaboration, the building’s circular structure features a series of spherical terraces balanced upon one another, connected by curved staircases that curl through the interior. The successful completion of this prestigious project has proved a showcase for the benefits of direct delivery.

The building’s award-winning architectural vision demanded the most exacting aesthetic standards: a spiralling cascade of shimmering glass envelopes the exterior, contrasting with a free-slowing concrete interior, pieced together flawlessly as if created in a single pour.

The project team used digital engineering to develop the design, ensuring the structure’s constituent parts blended seamlessly with one another, with no visible joints or services.

This technology was also used to devise the delivery strategy – and identify ongoing opportunities for improvement during the construction phase. In parallel, a web-based asset management system was created, which was handed over to the client on completion.  

Secret services

In order to discreetly incorporate the mechanical and electrical elements, the specification for the wiring was painstakingly modelled a year ahead of the commencement of works – with precise GPS coordinates linked to each terminal device.  

The project’s building services strategy was designed to maximise the use of DfMA, with the majority of components manufactured by in-house experts Crown House Technologies. These included plant skids and modules for the major equipment, including gas-fired boilers, pump sets, air-handling unit valve assemblies and multi-service risers.

This approach has proven to substantially improve productivity in delivery. But, perhaps more importantly, given the impact of building services on operating costs – and the superior quality that can be achieved through offsite methodologies – it has the potential to generate substantial efficiencies over the life-time of the asset.

Expanded expertise

To achieve the smoothest of finishes, concrete specialists Expanded used laser-controlled technology to perfect the formwork, with shuttering crafted offsite in a controlled environment. This was then transported to the project, where structural components such as the staircases and walls were poured in situ. 

In a construction first, tablet devices with 3D models of the concrete detailing were used by steel-fixers to ensure absolute precision in delivery.  

Visual method statements

By extracting specific information from the digital engineering model, the project team was able to create ‘visual method statements’ for the various works. These animated sequences allowed potential issues to be pre-empted and processes adjusted accordingly. They also served as an effective workforce communication tool, breaking down complex activities into simple steps and maximising coordination across the trades.

Intelligent asset management

On completion of the delivery phase, the digital engineering model was updated to reflect the final outcome, as constructed. This was used to create a web-based asset management system for the client – containing information about the design, manufacture, operation and maintenance of each element of the building.

To ensure the university’s facilities personnel were fully conversant with the software, a series of in-depth training sessions were provided. This will be supported through ongoing collaboration, with the project team continuing to work closely with the client throughout the post-handover commissioning process to confirm the systems perform as planned once the building is occupied.  

About

An iconic glass and concrete structure formed of shifted discs with cantilevered overhangs, without a single straight line. Rising six storeys above ground, with two basement levels, each floor plat is unique. The project is the fourth to be completed by Laing O’Rourke for the University of Oxford. The school was made possible by a £75 million donation by American philanthropist Leonard Blavatnik – and will become a global centre of excellence for the study of government.