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Building 180’s metamorphosis

The renovation that was completed in 2022 has transformed the appearance of CERN’s second-biggest building in terms of surface area while also improving its energy performance


Aerial view of renovation works of building 180
The refurbished Building 180 in 2022 (Image: CERN)

The reuse of equipment is inherent to the technological success that has always made and continues to make CERN what it is. The Proton Synchrotron is certainly the prime example of this – commissioned in 1959 and upgraded multiple times since, it is still tirelessly injecting protons into the accelerator chain. Another facility that fits perfectly into this paradigm is Building 180, CERN’s second-biggest building in terms of surface area (13 500m2) and home to the Large Magnet Facility (LMF), which has regularly been relocated over the years to adapt to the Organization’s evolving needs. The building got another makeover during the renovation work that was completed in 2022, readying the world’s biggest magnet factory to take on the challenges of the HL-LHC era and beyond.

Originally designed to house fixed-target experiments (most notably the Gargamelle bubble chamber), the facility was converted in the 1980s into the factory for magnets and detector components that we know today. It is now home to the LMF, where the LHC dipoles were assembled, and to several ATLAS workshops. Much of the equipment that criss-crosses the LMF Hall today – including its powerful presses – actually dates back to the facility’s origins in the 1960s. These machines have survived through the generations thanks to the efforts made to breathe new life into them:

“A group of young engineers with the freedom to exercise their creativity has been able to find new purposes for equipment that has only rarely been used since the decline of the fixed-target experiments. This new lease of life is all the more welcome because the equipment in question is rare and no longer manufactured. Some of the presses are now used to make components for the future HL-LHC – and they work very well!” says a delighted Rosario Principe, from the Accelerator Technology department.

A similar approach was taken to the year-long renovation of Building 180, which was completed in 2022. While the building’s envelope was being redone to improve its long-term sustainability, steps were taken to ensure that operations could continue throughout the renovation process. The main aim of the works, which also encompassed the adjacent Building 183, was to remove asbestos from the vast hall, improve its insulation and waterproofing, and modernise the façade, windows and roof. This was no mean feat given the sheer size of the building and the need for work to continue in the LMF and the ATLAS workshops, where the New Small Wheels, which went on to be installed in the detector during the renovation period, were being assembled.

“Initially, a lot of uncertainty surrounded the project, which we approached with a certain degree of caution. Carrying out such large-scale works on a building that is so vital for CERN was a major challenge, but we pulled it off,” says David Rodriguez, the construction project leader. The key to the success of the works was effective coordination between CERN, the building’s users and the six contractors making up the consortium carrying out the works.

“All the parties involved agreed that the bulk of the work would be performed from outside the building, via scaffolding erected against the façade. This allowed us to minimise our impact on the activities inside and to stay on good terms with the building’s users. We would particularly like to thank the building’s TSO, Rodrigue Faes, for facilitating communication among the teams,” adds Milton Morais, the construction manager.

The renovated building is not only safer and more elegant, but the new insulation significantly improves the working conditions of the users, who enjoy a warmer working environment while consuming less energy overall. This improvement in the building’s energy performance earned CERN a subsidy from Geneva’s cantonal energy office.

Following its metamorphosis, Building 180 is all set to remain at the heart of CERN’s activities for years, if not decades, to come.