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AJ Spec Live: Structure and Services

The third AJ Spec Live event discussed structure and services, taking in Siemen’s Crystal, Manchester Central Library and three school projects

Paul Finch, editorial director of the AJ, chaired the event at the NLA and reminded delegates of a time when structure and services were seen as almost separate entities, adding: ‘Now, thanks to BIM and other new technologies, it’s not like that anymore.’

Jonathan Ward, associate director of Arup, discussed the Crystal, built for Siemens as a centre to explore issues in urban sustainability. The angular building in London’s Docklands has 1,600m2 of photovoltaic panels on the roof, while 36 piles – each 150m deep – accommodates 17km of pipework which helps the building lose or gain heat according to the season.

‘It was a challenge not to overload the building with plant rooms,’ Ward said, adding that the solution was to use vertical air handling plants instead.

Jonathan Ward, associate director, Arup

Jonathan Ward, associate director, Arup

The facade has opening vents, a high proportion of insulated glass panels and its geometry was sculpted by solar gain considerations. Unusually, it achieved BREEAM credits for natural light provision.

‘Is it the greenest building in the world?’ asked Ward, referring to the fact that the Crystal gained both LEED Platinum and BREAAM Outstanding. ‘I wouldn’t want to claim that but we have delivered a building with a huge number of technologies.’

Mark Davies, associate, David Morley Architects discussed three projects the practice has worked on: Velvet Mill, a block of penthouses in Bradford; the Hub, in Regent’s Park, London; and the outdoor pool building for the Hurlingham Club in London, where ‘the height, rhythm and colour of the facade take their cue from the existing buildings at the club’.

Davies discussed the need for the Hub to accommodate not just a café but also changing room area for up to 300 people, in as subtle a way as possible considering the project’s location in the centre of a park. This was achieved by placing the changing room facilities below ground, leaving the band stand area above ground.

‘It’s buried in a mound, which gives good thermal mass,’ said Davies. He added: ‘Because it’s a sports facility, lots of water services were needed. These were placed along the outer rim of the underground structure.’

The next three speakers discussed school projects where the structural design of the buildings had to contend with great spatial limitations on the ground.

David Ardill, partner, Sheppard Robson, discussed St Ambrose College in Manchester, where a need to save space meant the architects chose to cut back on corridor and circulation space. This was achieved through a cruciform college building where a central circulation space allowed access to four separate teaching areas. The central space has ‘Spanish steps’ leading to each area which are able to accommodate all the pupils attending the school, meaning it can double up as the school’s assembly point.

David Ardill, partner, Sheppard Robson

David Ardill, partner, Sheppard Robson

The school’s cruciform design around a central space also dictated the arrangement of classrooms in the building. ‘The teaching spaces for more extroverted subjects [such as drama or music] are at the centre of the building, while more introspective teaching spaces tend to be towards the outside of the building.’ The contractor client chose steel frame construction and the form of the school was developed accordingly.

Matthew Curtis, architect, Bennetts Associates, spoke of his practice’s replacement of a temporary modular building with a new biology building for Canford School. The project was located in a courtyard between existing buildings, and the fact that the construction team was not allowed to lift building materials by crane over existing buildings proved to be a limitation, as did the fact that work on site could only take place in the evenings to avoid disturbing lessons.

‘We decided early on that wood was the best material for the new biology building,’ said Curtis, adding that its colour complemented surrounding buildings and that its organic nature had biological references.

‘We also had to design our one-storey building to allow for a second floor to be added later,’ said Curtis. As well as load bearing considerations, this also involved applying a fire retardant coating to the frame. By locating services in adjacent buildings, Bennets was able to achieve a more elegant architectural and structural response.

David Mimran, architectural assistant at David Miller Architects spoke about his work on Mayfield Secondary School, where careful collaboration at the design stage allowed the practice to meet the 18 month programme target.

Both cross laminated timber (CLT) and concrete were considered for construction. CLT was chosen in the end as it would cut construction time.

BIM was a key part of the design process. ‘We feel that the project sits at BIM level 2,’ said Mimran, adding: ‘BIM adds an extra level of collaboration. When you are at BIM level 3, you are all working on the same model and you have a clear hierarchy.’

Peter Buchan, senior partner, Ryder Architecture

Peter Buchan, senior partner, Ryder Architecture

The benefits of BIM were also discussed by the final speaker Peter Buchan, senior partner at Ryder Architecture, who discussed his work on Manchester Central Library and said: ‘BIM is a state of mind, an attitude, and we couldn’t have done this project without it.’

Ryder Architecture worked to modernise the library to help the city raise annual visitor numbers from 1 to 2 million. Almost 35 miles of shelving from four storeys beneath the main reading room was removed, which allowed for a new, publically-accessible, floor at ground level, while the reading room was renovated.

There was also a need to add more legibility to the circulation of the building. ‘Point Clouds survey was essential for us, said Buchan. ‘It would have been extremely difficult to thread services through without it.’

The biggest limitation in the 1930’s building – described by Buchan as ‘the swansong of neo-Classicism before we Modernists took over’ was that it had a Grade II-listed facade which couldn’t be damaged. This meant passing all new materials through a window, a process Buchan compared to ‘removing the fruit cake from a wedding cake and replacing it with sponge, taking care not to damage the icing.’

The next edition of AJ Spec Live will take place on 25 June 2014 at the NLA and will focus on walls, ceilings and partitions.

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