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Working Detail: Nottingham Contemporary by Caruso St John Architects

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[WORKING DETAIL 12.11.09] Facade construction

Nottingham Contemporary − The exterior image for Nottingham Contemporary was inspired by the impressive 19th-century facades of the city’s Lace Market, where hard bricks form a tough shell to the structural frames of the warehouse buildings. The rigour of their repetitive pattern and precise assembly lends dignity to the streets of the quarter. The centre’s facades form a continuous patterned surface of precast concrete elements. The crude techniques and materials of the 1960s have undergone intensive development and it is now possible to create surfaces that are somewhere between stone, terracotta and concrete.

The terracotta facades of Louis Sullivan’s Guaranty Building in Buffalo, New York, were a model for our facades. These finely moulded surfaces, with their rich and considered use of pattern, speak of their material and fabrication. Something of these qualities can be achieved with contemporary precast concrete, which requires less intensive skilled labour.

The starting point for our research was lace patterns. Computer milling enables formwork to be produced which is directly controlled by the architect. CAD drawings, graphics or even photos are translated into machine milling instructions, allowing positives to be cut from resin board. Hard latex moulds are then made, tough and flexible enough to be reused many times. The patterned moulds can be used as modules within the formwork of individual precast units, allowing variety and hierarchy of patterning at little extra cost.

Adam Caruso, Caruso St John Architects

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