Unravelling the wonders of the universe at Hassell’s visitor centre
Once the world’s largest steerable radio telescopes, the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank is a symbol of the Space Race.
In more recent memory, it has played its part in popular culture, providing the backdrop to Tom Baker’s final moments as Dr Who and a 1994 photoshoot for Manchester band Oasis.
Now its 76m-diameter frame is the inspiration for Jodrell Bank’s £20.5m new visitor centre, the First Light Pavilion created by international design practice Hassell.
The pavilion is the largest reinforced concrete dome in the UK, and the first to be built in this country for 25 years. Achieved in a single pour, requiring 59 operatives and 55 wagons of concrete, the concrete dome took 12 hours to complete. “A lot of people involved with the project turned up to have a look because they thought this is not something you see very often,” said project architect Gary Collins of Hassell.
Whilst mirroring the shape and scale of the landmark telescope, the pavilion has been designed to help it respond sympathetically to its unique Cheshire surroundings. Grass grows over the concrete structure, disguising the pavilion in the landscape and acting as a walkway for visitors to venture across. It’s a friendly reminder that concrete shells are a material-efficient form of construction.
On the site, which is part of the University of Manchester, visitors are able to engage with the location’s rich heritage, from experiencing a meteor shower to crawling into a black hole. At the heart of the building is a 150-seat auditorium, and the state-of-the-art “space dome”, a huge, 270º curved screen offering every visitor an immersive audio-visual experience. Here visitors can enjoy a 30-minute film detailing the history of Jodrell Bank narrated by Professor Brian Cox.
The flexibility of the concrete allowed the addition of motion, creating a wordmark that curves into a bowl shape, and can be turned and tilted just like the telescope itself.
Built on a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the centre’s design is also said to make reference to ancient sites such as Stonehenge and Newgrange, by aligning with the sun via a meridian line cut through the dome’s entranceway.
The hope is that now the First Light Pavilion can open up the inspiring history of Jodrell Bank by engaging visitors with the fantastic stories of its pioneering scientists and their ground-breaking feats of science and engineering.