One of the last buildings to be designed by the acclaimed architect Will Alsop, the Neuron Pod, opened to the public on the 4th of March 2019. Costing £2 million to construct, the Neuron Pod replicates a nerve cell and using UFO fibre optics, it is brought to life after dark in stunning fashion.
The structure, which is described by Queen Mary University of London as an 'informal science learning centre' was designed to sit alongside the Blizard institute on QMUL's Whitechapel campus.
The three legged steel structure is 75ft long and 32ft high and is designed to host workshops and events during the day and community and corporate events in the evening.
Design and Manufacture
UFO Lighting was initially contacted by Sutton Vane Associates towards the end of 2017 to discuss the possibility of us manufacturing some custom fibre optic fittings for the Neuron Pod. Due to the projects high profile we had heard quite a bit about it previously, and we jumped at the chance of being involved.
SVA's specification for the fittings were quite clear, and we knew immediately that fibre optics, combined with our high power LED light sources would be the perfect choice for this project. The brief called for long, flexible light wands which could be grouped together in large quantities and could be easily maintained. The fittings also had to be weather resistant, and have colour change and twinkle capabilities. Together with these custom fittings, we were also asked to supply 42 of our P2 paver fittings which would be used on the belly of the structure to shine downwards onto the ground.
Initial sketches, together with in-house design meetings led us onto prototype designs and eventually to the finished product which was signed off by SVA. The final design comprised two parts; a multi-part stainless steel body which was sealed internally via a clever combination of water tight o'rings, glands and a flexible acrylic wand which was to be supplied in 4 different lengths. The flexible wand contains an internal core of PMMA which is what allows it to illuminate.
The finished design incorporated all the requirements asked for in the project brief - including the ability to easily swap out the spines from the exterior of the structure. This was a very important part of the design for two reasons. Firstly, although the spines are extremely strong, they are constantly subjected to whatever inclement conditions London throws at them - and hence risk of damage is always a possibility. Secondly, there should be no reason to have to disturb whatever is going on inside the Pod to carry out maintenance.
Once the design was accepted, the manufacturing of the parts could commence. Everything was manufactured in our factory in Coldstream in the Scottish Borders. After undergoing quality checking, everything was packed up and taken to site ready for installation to begin.
As well as designing and manufacturing the fittings used in the project, UFO's team were heavily involved in installing the fittings into the Neuron Pod structure.
Working with Total Construction, the company who were responsible for the construction of the external pod, a 4-man team of UFO installation staff were on site for 3 weeks to install the fibre optic components. Our team worked additional hours to ensure that the installation schedule was adhered to.
From UFO's point of view, installation comprised of 2 fixes, each of which was followed by another company spray lining the interior of the pod:
1 - UFO first fix - we installed the fitting metal bodies into the structure and sealed in place
2 - The interior of the structure was spray lined to provide additional seal
3 - UFO second fix - we installed the flexible wands on the exterior of the Pod. We also routed and secured the fibre optic harnesses and installed the light sources
4 - After testing functionality, the interior was spray lined again, safely cocooning the fibre optic
Professor Fran Balkwill, director of Centre of the Cell, said: "Amazingly it looks just like the plans, especially at night when its lights are all on. It's what we hoped and dreamed about. It's iconic, controversial, fun and extremely practical. It's about raising aspirations. Many of the children who come and see us will be the first generation of their family going to university. We are never going to turn all our visitors into scientists but it's about lighting the spark in some of them."
Images courtesy of Jonathan Cole Photography