Planet Cafe Canopy

University of Manchester, Cheshire

Planet Cafe Canopy: eat beneath the stars and the 250ft Lovell Telescope


The Cafe Canopy is a striking gold addition to the Planet Pavilion, casting dappled light through the pattern of billions of constellations.  The angular shapes, brilliant cladding and white structure playfully contrast the satin black pavilion and direct views towards the giant Lovell Telescope.

Recreating the Universe

The canopy is made of four gold anodised aluminium frames, each with a unique pattern that that depicts part of a radio satellite image of the Universe.  The radio image was translated into a perforation pattern using a custom script, so that the brightest star clusters appear as large holes in the canopy.  The light from our own sun then recreates the image of the Universe for people enjoying a bite to eat on the cafe terrace.

The primary structure is exposed and painted white, a nod to the intricate structure of the Lovell Telescope, and the roof is overclad with clear polycarbonate to provide shelter from light rain.

Views & Food

The four frames of the canopy are splayed out and up, creating a sawtooth profile that enhances views of the Lovell Telescope from the cafe and the terrace.  The effect makes the structure all but disappear when seen from inside, and accentuates the orientation of the Planet Pavilion towards the Lovell Telescope.

The food at the cafe is worth the visit alone, and the view is spectacular.

Client: University of Manchester

Cost Consultant: Capita

Structural Engineer: Capita

Contractor: MC Construction

Cladding Contractor: WPL

Role: Project Architect, Design Team Leader, Contract Administrator

The Planet Cafe Canopy was procured at the same time as the Star Pavilion.  I was project architect and contract administrator for both projects, and gained considerable experience when the initial contractor went into administration 16 weeks into the build.  We worked closely with the replacement contractor (MC Construction) to remediate the works and complete the project in time for filming of BBC’s Stargazing Live.

We developed the pattern for the canopy with a custom script written by FCBS’s Architectural Software Engineer, Richard Priest.  Using the script, we translated the original radio image into a perforation pattern, tested opening sizes and density with physical prototypes and then carefully coordinated the pattern with the cladding contractor (WPL).  In total the image is recreated with 1.7 million holes across 52 unique panels.

Jodrell Bank is a remarkable site and it was a privilege to work on such a prominent project, which enhances the Discovery Centre visitor facilities and will contribute to its success in increasing public engagement and inspiring the scientists of the future.