Project spotlight.

Electric cars, by Dyson.

Dyson is a brand famous for breaking the mould when it comes to vacuum cleaners and hair-dryers, but they’ve now set their sights on the emerging electric car industry.

It’s a bold proposal, which the Financial Times cites as potentially ‘make-or-break’ for the company. Dyson proposes to start selling electric cars by 2021 and plans to construct a new 10-mile track and other facilities at Hullavington Airfield in Wiltshire in order to test them. We have been working with Dyson across multiple facilities, including its existing Malmesbury Campus and now on this 517-acre site; a disused airfield they purchased nearly two years ago.


Dyson has already renovated two hangars and made it the base for 400 employees, but with another three buildings set to open, the finished site could accommodate 2,000. The redevelopment has so far cost £84 million and the next phase of the airfield's development would take Dyson's total investment to £200 million.

The track

Dyson will apply for permission to build six different track environments on the site:

  • Dynamic handling track (testing ride, handling, steering and brakes)
  • Large asphalt covered area (testing manoeuvrability)
  • Off-road route (simulates soft and varied terrain)
  • Hill and handling road route
  • Fast-track route (testing maximum speed)
  • Test slopes (testing powertrain functionality)

The hangars

You can imagine the amount of research required to bring an electric vehicle to market, so Dyson needs a base for the development of such a fast-paced project. We’ve supported the refurbishment of two existing WW2 hangars to accommodate R&D teams.


Working with these teams has been challenging, but equally rewarding. We’re regularly asked to come up with innovative designs that would both meet the demanding requirements of the testing operations and be straightforward enough to allow quick installation that would meet tight programmes.


Working closely with the end-users has given us a crucial insight into their requirements, showing us what’s most important and allowing them to work as effectively as possible. Workshops between us, end-users, and Dyson’s third-party suppliers have helped us develop these exacting requirements into a clear and concise brief.

Busbars

Due to the evolving nature of such a project, Dyson’s brief has inevitably changed throughout the project, affecting the requirements for many different areas in the building. We’ve mitigated this by employing a base electrical distribution strategy that uses high-power busbars distributed around the hangar. Tap-off units can then be simply plugged in to distribute power. This inbuilt flexibility means changes to power requirements and/or lab layouts can be more easily accommodated, compared to a traditional cabled scheme.


In a similar way, a process chilled water system was designed. It distributes pipework around the building, with flanged and valve connections provided at regular intervals. This allows lab and test areas to be easily connected and changed as Dyson’s R&D processes evolve.

History

The airfield itself has a rich history. Hullavington began construction in 1936 as a flight training school, with grass runways and biplanes. The onset of the second world war, however, accelerated development.


Top officers from the allied nations came to Hullavington to share strategies and deepen their understanding of how to fly aircraft to their limit. By 1940, Hullavington was a base for aircraft ranging from Spitfires and Lancasters to Douglas Bostons and GAL Hotspur troop-carrying gliders. By the end of the war there were more than 1,000 aircraft based on the airfield.


The hangars also have architectural significance, bringing together the influences of the likes of Lutyens and Le Corbusier. Dyson says it is probably the most representative surviving example of Royal Air Force architecture of the post-1934 ‘expansion period’.

After 1995, the airfield was largely inactive until 2016, when Dyson bought it.

Our involvement

What are we doing to help Dyson break into the electric car industry?

  • Acoustics – for the hangars and the test track
  • Fire Engineering
  • Utilities & Energy Infrastructure – providing offsite infrastructure to enable to site to function
  • Masterplanning

- Acoustics

- Lighting Design

- Sustainability

  • MEP

- to support the refurbishment of the hangars to accommodate R&D teams

- feasibility studies to understand future potential of existing building stock

- design for the on-site infrastructure to support the masterplan