Blog: Catesby Tunnel is our most unique project to date

07 September 2017

Luke Abbott, architect and director at the Roger Coy Partnership, has written a blog about his work on the high-profile Catesby Tunnel development.

We were appointed for the Catesby Tunnel project over three years ago and, to date, this is the most unique architectural project for which we have been commissioned.

As architects, we all have a plan chest full of schemes with huge amounts of potential that have sadly never been constructed due to budgetary or planning constraints. When developing the Catesby Tunnel brief, I was prepared to face the usual obstacles presented by the construction industry, therefore, to reach the pre-construction stage is hugely rewarding.

Catesby railway tunnel is a relic left behind from the Victorian transport age. It is some 2,750m long, perfectly straight, lined with blue brick and is a testament to the skill and ingenuity of the Victorian builders. To be presented with the opportunity to convert this structure to a unique world-class aerodynamic testing facility for the modern transport age is in itself somewhat poetic.

Our clients Aero Research Partners (ARP) are leaders in aerodynamics and computational fluid dynamics which makes a change from our usual mixture of commercial or private clients.

I was responsible for designing the buildings with a team here at RCP.

RCP headed the pre-planning design team which included civil engineers, landscape architects, ecologists and transport consultants. RCP was also responsible for securing the planning permission which took 18 months from submission to approval.

The building design has to respond to the site, brief and budget constraints. Further challenges included the rural nature of the site and visual impact from the development proposal upon its immediate and wider context, the juxtaposition of the Victorian railway tunnel portal, and how best to merge the proposed and existing, with consideration given to the hierarchy.

This challenging project is for me, a career highlight and a great example of how we as architects are linked through the design of our buildings to industries reaching further than that of construction. This project has mustered interest and comment from multiple universities, rail enthusiasts, vehicular engineers and the media.

Once the planning permission was secured and in hand, we began to work alongside Stepnell Ltd Building and Civil Engineering Contractors for the first time on the technical design and pre-construction and we look forward to continuing our professional relationship.

We are currently involved with discharging the planning conditions, a statutory requirement before operations on site commence, and we are anticipating putting the first spade in the ground this side of Christmas 2017.

The plans will be prepared using Autodesk Revit – a sophisticated computer-based design tool to Building Information Modelling (BIM) Level 2.  

At BIM Level 2, design information is shared through a common file format (Revit) which enables any organisation to be able to combine that data with their own in order to make a federated BIM model, and to carry out interrogative checks on it.

Now that ARP has secured £4.2 million of funding from the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership through the government’s Local Growth Fund, we are awaiting instruction to begin the next phase, which is expected imminently.

Watch this space for further updates.