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The Edinburgh Dome
Malvern St James School, Great Malvern, Worcestershire
associated engineer
Dante Bini
date  May 1977
UK era  Modern  |  category  Building  |  reference  SO781459
The Edinburgh Dome was one of the first private enterprise ‘parashell’ pneumatically inflated concrete structures in Britain. It was built as a school sports hall in Queen Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee year and opened by HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1978 — hence its name.
Dante Bini constructed the first of his domes in 1964 in Italy, and contractor Norwest Holst bought the sole rights to use his methods in Britain. The dome at the then Malvern Girls’ College was designed by local architect Michael Godwin.
The structure is founded on a reinforced concrete ring beam, 36m in diameter. To construct the dome, a neoprene membrane was laid over the area enclosed by the ring beam and reinforcement springs attached around the edge of the circle, meeting in a expandable helical web of steel. Concrete was poured over the reinforcement and topped with another neoprene membrane.
Increasing air pressure was applied under the sandwich of neoprene and reinforced concrete until the layers had inflated to an elliptical profile, 11m high. This process took just one hour. The pressure was then kept constant for three days until the concrete set.
Eight windows were cut into the base of the dome — effectively leaving the ‘lid’ of the structure perched on eight legs. Godwin remarked at the time that “when we get to the stage of cutting out the enormous holes for the windows, we shall be pushing building technology to its known limits”. A lake was created around the dome to reflect light into the inside.
The whole building was constructed in two weeks, and at comparatively low cost — around £160 per sq m.
Over the years, the Edinburgh Dome has suffered damp problems, and was given a copper covering. It has also proved “costly to maintain and not energy efficient”. It seems the school would like to demolish it to make way for a larger hall but local campaigners are seeking a decision on awarding it Grade II listed status. A decision from English Heritage and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport is pending as we write (2009).
Originally there were some 1,500 parashells in existence worldwide but many have been demolished. The technology is still used, although mainly to provide ‘instant’ buildings in disaster-hit areas.
Architect: Michael Godwin, Godwin & Cowper, Stourport
Main contractor: Norwest Holst
Research: ECPK

The Edinburgh Dome