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The white stuff for Bluewater

Company profile: Techrete

Bluewater,Europe's largest retail development,is set in a former limestone quarry on the North Downs in Kent.The architect, Michael Puckett ofEric Kuhne & Associates,explains:'We wanted a cladding material which would look as though it were carved out ofthe chalk cliffs in which the development was sited.'The project involved more than 25,000m 2 ofprecast cladding with a value in excess of £5 million.

Techrete has designed a series of cladding panels for the three main stores John Lewis,Marks & Spencer and House of Fraser - which reflect this.The panels are a warm,white,reconstructed stone with a lightly etched finish and with contrasting sand-blasted finish.

The four-storey John Lewis store,a concrete-frame structure,has an articulated front facade with a full-length projecting glazed bay at first and second floor.The module ofthe reconstructed-stone precast panel joints matches the window heads and sills and co-ordinates with the complex changes ofplane.A projecting precast cornice reduces the apparent height ofthe building;it is bordered with a frieze ofpanels embossed with the ' JL 'logo.A circular window framed with a precast panel forms the centrepiece ofthe glazed bay.

A curved steel canopy supported by precast columns dominates the main entrance ofMarks & Spencer.The columns were cast in single units with articulated false joints.

The windows to the upper storeys are framed with precast units incorporating delicate pilasters and spandrels.

The curved facade ofthe House of Fraser store has a series ofrectangular columns which form a colonnade at ground-floor level and rise to enclose large precast window frames.Strong modelling helps to disguise panel joints.

As the project proceeded,manufacturer and client worked together to develop materials and construction in innovative ways.

For example the West Village columns were manufactured at the Techrete plant as rectangular precast elements encased in structural steelwork provided by Rowens,the steelwork sub-contractor.

This required complex co-ordination, but resulted in economies ofinstallation - a single operation on site,and in a reduction in size ofthe columns - from 700mm to 450mm square.At later stages ofthe contract,glass-reinforced concrete ( GRC )was used extensively for speed,lightness and ease oferection.

GRC overcladding was used on the Marks & Spencer store;the free-standing cube and cone which stand on the roofs of the Village are also of GRC .

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