National Buried Infrastructure Facility

University of Birmingham

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Project Value:

£12 million




Key Points

A “one of it’s kind” research facility

Features a unique 1,250 cubic metre test pit

Actuator frame capable of up to 200 tonnes of pressure

Serviced by a 20-tonne crane.

A Design Challenge

The challenge posed to the design team was to incorporate complex facilities designed to test all aspects of buried infrastructure (eg. pipes, cables, culverts, barriers, etc.) at full scale and larger, deeper structures (eg. shallow tunnels) at near full-scale, whether constructed traditionally or using trenchless technology, as well as investigating ground improvement and stabilisation techniques and test linear infrastructure utilising a strong floor facility. Further challenges that the design team overcame were a small and tightly constrained site with complications due to ground levels, ground conditions, existing services and a sewer across site, existing building foundations uncovered and the risk of ground contamination due to previous uses.

Unique Features

The resulting 1,639 square metre facility comprises a number of bespoke features including a unique 1,250 cubic metre (25 metre x 10 metre x 5 metre deep) test pit which is capable of testing full scale infrastructure research experiments utilising an actuator frame capable of up to 200 tonnes of pressure and serviced by a 20-tonne crane. A hydraulic floor system at the bottom of the pit simulates ground movement and differing conditions. The rest of the 500 square metre Test Hall is constructed with a one metre thick Strong Floor which will be used for linear infrastructure experiments.

Other features include environmental chambers, an external pipeline loop, study and office space, and industrial knowledge transfer rooms. State-of-the-art Material Characterisation Laboratories, Visualisation and Digital Analysis Suites allow researchers to render 3D models of pit experiments which can be distributed across the UKCRIC network.


Dark grey standing seam cladding wraps the first and second floors of the building, sitting above crushed stone filled gabion walls on the ground floor. Triple height glazing allows natural light to flood into the entrance atrium where the gabion walling continues. Bold yellow and black signage and selected detailing punctuates the façade, a theme that is repeated internally including on the steel frame around the test pit. The interior is light and bright, with stripped back finishes and semi exposed M&E.