Amid the architectural harmonies of Oxford’s dreaming spires, in a high-profile site opposite the grade I-listed Keble College Chapel, Rob Cooper sank a 10-storey tower clad in bronze, glass and copper halfway into the earth so that physicists could probe the most basic properties of nature.
The technical difficulties were immense. Within five storeys of basement – extending 17 metres down, they were the city’s deepest, and adjacent to an existing building – Rob had to construct structurally isolated ‘black box’ lab spaces. Not only did the highly serviced labs have to allow temperature control to a tolerance of +/-0.1 degrees, they had to observe the most stringent of vibration isolation criteria for nano-scale experiments that are otherwise sensitive enough to be affected by minute tremors from the M40 motorway, a mere nine miles away.
By modelling the building, closely monitoring the installation, constantly undertaking vibration tests at agreed hold points with a specialist, he proved his installation met the brief. He even got the temperature control tolerance in the labs down to a remarkable +/-0.02 degrees.
His clever value engineering delivered the cost plan. For example, he changing the main balustrade material from solid oak to solid tulipwood, staining it to achieve the desired effect, while a simple change in pinboard material realised savings that ensured another change could go ahead.
And it wasn’t just the technical challenge he overcame. Six months before handover, the joinery supplier’s factory burned to the ground, along with timber items manufactured for the project. To help get the factory back up and running, and resupply project materials, Rob brought his supply chain to the stricken joiner’s aid so effectively that the scheme was able to reduce the time lost to just three months. He finished the project on time and on budget to a fanfare of praise for its quality.