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Cartwright Pickard transforms Royal Holloway’s former boiler house

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The distinctive structure in Egham, Surrey now houses a café and events space

Cartwright Pickard has completed the Boilerhouse at Royal Holloway, University of London, comprising a new café pavilion and events space inserted into the courtyard of the original Boiler House complex that formerly served the Grade-I listed Founder’s Building as well as the refurbishment of the original stable block into a seating and servery area. 

The pavilion was constructed using prefabricated off-site components including a flitched steel plate and glulam timber superstructure with a curving saddle-like copper roof lifting up in reference to the original Boiler House chimneys. With a stainless steel-braced glass base opening out onto the courtyard and a louvred upper storey, the pavilion form unashamedly contrasts the original Boiler House, which has been fitted with new lighting to lend its redbrick forms a sense of drama. Prototypes of both the superstructure and soffit were used for benchmarking prior to manufacturing, where BIM allowed for accurate and fast sheet cutting with minimum material waste.

Courtyard and landscaping upgrades have improved external spaces and provide a more accessible approach into this area of the university campus. The introduction of sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS) helps to mitigate against flooding, and parking was reduced to give more space to pedestrians. The new café pavilion has allowed for the existing café to be converted into new teaching spaces.

005 the boilerhouse hundven clements photography

005 the boilerhouse hundven clements photography

Source: Hundven-Clements Photography

Architect’s view

Due to the fact the Boilerhouse was procured for a set budget and within a very tight programme, the leading design team had to look at innovative ways to reduce timescales in all areas of the project procurement – the project had to be delivered to a fast-paced, six-month timeline post RIBA Stage 2, with a successful listed building consent process within 1-2 months. The project was delivered on time and on budget.

Although the programme was fixed to meet the academic funding rounds and student programmes of the university, the client was ambitious in its intent for a quality architectural space as well as the siting of the new building. The site falls within the curtilage of the Grade-I listed Founder’s Building, therefore the proposals for intervention involved detailed consultation with Historic England and the Local Authority Conservation Officer to ensure the historic courtyard buildings, walls and fabric were protected and enhanced through a complementary palette of new materials and architectural form. 

008 the boilerhouse hundven clements photography

008 the boilerhouse hundven clements photography

Source: Hundven-Clements Photography

In order to meet the demanding programme and complexities of an occupied student campus, Cartwright Pickard designed the new pavilion to take advantage of prefabricated and offsite methods of construction. Proceeding with a largely prefabricated solution meant that the structure could be tested offsite and delivered ready for immediate erection, limiting disturbance to the university and maintaining campus life.

Timber was the obvious choice for the prefabricated structure with its sustainability credentials, strength, quality and beauty. As a primary material used within the existing Boilerhouse and stables, the interplay between the original timber and the new glulam timber superstructure forms an interesting dialogue.

Contextual, programme-efficient prefabricated and modern methods of employing timber were continued throughout the project through the choice of material for the soffit panels. Birch plywood faced panels were chosen for their inherent strength, beauty and ability to take on the complex curvature of the roof form. Perforations within the panels allowed the soffit to also act acoustically, enhancing its use and reducing pressure on the budget for additional materials.

The Boilerhouse has been beautifully designed as a sensitive intervention, enhancing the historic context in which it sits. It is extremely popular among staff and students alike, and has become a very well-used and vibrant campus space for the university.

Peter Cartwright, director, Cartwright Pickard

The boilerhouse sections

The boilerhouse sections

Project data

Start on site June 2016
Completion November 2016
Gross internal floor area 248m²
Gross (internal + external) floor area 255m²
Form of contract or procurement route Design and Build
Construction cost £3 million
Architect Cartwright Pickard
Client Royal Holloway, University of London  
Project manager Mortimer Isaacs
Quantity surveyor Arcadis
M&E engineer Hilson Moran
Structural engineer Team4 Consulting
Lighting consultant Light Bureau
Contractor ARJ        
Cad software used Revit

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