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Spanish artist's cube-shape mountain cavern is buildable, say geo-engineers

PLANS TO create a 50m span cubic cavern in the heart of a Spanish mountain are buildable, geotechnical engineers said last month.

Arup Geotechnics is leading the technical design of the 65m long, 50m wide and 45m high carved space inside Mount Tindaya on Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, as conceived by the late Spanish artist Eduardo Chillida (GE July 04).

Arup is working with Spanish architect Lorenzo Fernßndez Ord=nez and engineer Scott Wilson PiÚsold.

The project will produce one of the largest underground caverns ever built and the only one of its size with a flat roof.

Arup project manager Steve Macklin said the design team had reviewed results of the site investigation which was completed in July and will produce a report this month. This will confi rm the project can move to the design stage.

The Spanish government, which is funding work, insisted Arup prove the cavern was technically feasible before an intrusive site investigation was carried out. This initial assessment, based on geophysics and satellite imaging, was finished in November 2003.

The second phase investigation, which involved drilling 14 boreholes up to 170m deep and produced 1.7km of core, included geological mapping, insitu permeability, strength and stiffness testing using mechanical and geophysical techniques and a comprehensive laboratory testing programme.

Arup said Mount Tindaya is impressive, not only for its shape and form, but also for its hard, resistant rock.

Chillida's vision for the space to appear 'carved' from the rock discounts more conventional design and construction of an arched vault and suspended ceiling.

The artistic requirement for the rock surface to be exposed also prevents use of other traditional design technologies, such as a concrete lining, for the cavern's interior.

As well as the engineering and design challenges Mount Tindaya presents, many environmental constraints will also influence the design and construction methods, Arup said.

The dry, near-desert like environment is fragile, with a delicate balance of flora and fauna. Mount Tindaya is also archaeologically significant, with ancient petroglyph art carved into some surfaces, similar to markings on sacred mountains in North Africa.

Environmental protection measures included using helicopters to transport staff and materials to and from the drilling sites. Investigations were planned around the nesting season to avoid disturbing eagles.

Construction of the cavern is due to start in 2007 and is expected to

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