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Building solutions

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Hanson TiS' Wonderwall system is at the forefront of innovation. Its complete design service means it can be an integral player from day one, without turning its back on traditional values

It is difficult to imagine how any industry can avoid the need for change for quite as long as the brick-making industry has done.

For many years, brick manufacturers have argued that it is a very old, traditional business that has had little need of change, production techniques aside, for the last 10,000 years.

For centuries, brick has been the preferred facade material in this country and in many others. It is reassuring for Hanson Brick to know that the product manufactured at 14 locations around the UK, and at further factories in the US and Canada, is actually a well-loved material. This is, of course, no excuse for complacency, and some critics might question why change and innovation among brickmakers is so long overdue.

'For decades we have been interested in selling our wares to merchants and builders, ' says David Szymanski, managing director of Hanson Brick. 'Today we look towards finding solutions for the construction industry and creating innovative systems and methods while retaining the use of our own products.'

Hanson Brick is particularly aware that brick is not always the automatic choice of the architect. It is common for today's specifier to consider brick in competition with other materials such as polymers, glass, timber and steel, and it is true that brick has lost ground to these and other materials. Build time and associated on-site costs also contribute to the selection process, as do skills resources, which remain under pressure.

Addressing these issues is not achieved by product development alone. Hanson Brick already makes around one billion bricks in the UK, which come in an enormous variety of colours, textures, shapes and sizes. Making another in a different colour is not product development but simply a variation on a theme.

'The development of new ideas and concepts is paramount for the continued success of brick, ' says Szymanski. 'We are improving our basic products all the time to provide even greater choice, but we have gone further than that by investing in completely new ways of doing old things.'

At the forefront of innovation is the formation of Hanson TiS. The company manufactures specialist cladding systems for both volumetric and modular buildings, satisfying demand for a building system which incorporates the bricks everyone loves while addressing objections by reducing on-site labour and build time, overcoming skills deficiencies and achieving both integrity and sustainability.

With the Hanson TiS system, the weather need never again be the cause of expensive delays, and the reduction in the number of trades on site at any single time is an added bonus.

At the heart of the Hanson TiS Wonderwall system is the factory-made backer board. This board consists of a layer of Styrofoam extruded polystyrene thermal insulation laminated to a brick-slip carrier sheet. The ribs of the carrier sheet have been designed to facilitate run-off of any rainwater that may penetrate the outer brick slip. And installation of Wonderwall could not be easier.

Setting reference points The first panel is used to set a reference point for the area to be clad. Reference points are marked on the building to establish datum points for work to commence.

Fixing the boards Once the datum points have been checked, the boards can be secured to the substrate with the relevant fixings. Horizontal joints are made watertight by overlapping the carrier sheet from the board above. The tongues and grooves on the long sides interlock to give vertical joint protection.

Applying brick slips Once installed, a line of Wonderwall brickslip adhesive is applied without obstructing the drainage channels. Brick slips are pushed firmly into place and adjusted to give the required horizontal spacing.

Mortar joints Wonderwall mortar is mixed and applied using either a pointing gun or mortar bag.

Once the correct consistency is achieved, the mortar is tooled to create the mortar joint required.

Wonderwall benefits

Using Wonderwall has many benefits. It is a versatile alternative to traditional construction methods, which at the same time retains the aesthetics of traditional brickwork. It can be installed up to three times faster than traditional brickwork and requires only semi-skilled labour. Wonderwall offers excellent thermal performance and provides a weather-resistant finish.

Latest developments in the manufacture of these units will provide an inherent structural capacity so that the panels will complement, or even replace, other structures such as timber framing.

Hanson TiS is making complete modular buildings off-site at large premises in Old Trafford, Manchester. Modules are assembled before being broken down and shipped to site.

So far, the system has been used primarily in industrial and commercial applications. Pilot projects for fast-food giant Burger King ensured that the first Whopper was served exactly 24 hours after construction started on site. Hanson TiS' complete design service is also extending the feasibility of the system to social housing and to some smaller projects ranging from free-standing walls to garden rooms.

'In short, we're all about providing solutions, ' says John Thompson, managing director of Hanson TiS. 'In this day and age, we have to provide, or contribute to, complete building solutions and become an integral part of those solutions from day one of a project.

'The Wonderwall system means that Hanson has shifted emphasis away from being solely a product manufacturer to being a solution provider - without turning its back on traditional values.'

Persimmon house, Milton Keynes

The first detached house in the UK to incorporate the Hanson TiS Wonderwall I panels within an innovative structure was erected at Emerson Valley, Milton Keynes, in autumn 2000.

Under the directive of John White, group chief executive of Persimmon Homes, the UK's largest housebuilder, a detached house was constructed using H+H Celcon's aerated blockwork in a solid 215mm single-leaf wall. The wall structure demonstrates an innovative construction technique that employs the use of solid masonry with a U-value of 0.27W/m 2K. This is better than the required 0.35W/m 2K.A particular benefit from the Wonderwall cladding panels lies in the simple construction procedure and the ease with which operatives can learn the techniques of fixing brick slips and pointing the mortar joints with a premix mortar that ensures perfect colour consistency.

Another benefit of the system is the ease with which slip thicknesses may be varied in order to provide brickwork relief details such as string courses, corbels and other traditional masonry features.

One of the lessons learned from the project was the need to establish some clear basic construction details which leave both the designers and builders in no doubt as to the location of DPCs, lintels and foundation construction. Another benefit was highlighted when, under the supervision of an experienced TiS member of staff, both the composite panels and the brick slips were constructed by a number of operatives who until then had received the minimum amount of training. This has shown that the system can be adapted quickly to the needs of most builders and allows a very short learning curve.

Steel-framed modular buildings One of the most beneficial methods of building construction in current use in terms of speed of construction and consistent quality is the prefabricated modular unit.

Although factory-made units have been in existence since the 1970s, there has been a tremendous revival in interest due to the findings of the Egan report, Rethinking Construction, and the subsequent drive for overall improved quality and standards of design and construction.

While modular units are well suited for the market of domestic accommodation, the method is usually restricted to a maximum of five storeys, above which there is a need to strengthen the superstructure.

Modular units may provide a good solution for penthouse details.

Hanson TiS is developing penthouse units that will be manufactured completely under factory conditions and then delivered in sections to the proposed site.

Although these are widely standardised, they may be modified individually to suit specific situations.

Additionally, there is a tremendous variety of wall/roof finishes which may be incorporated including masonry (brick and block), render, glass and specialist profiled metal cladding.

Overall costs for prefabrication are such that the very high speed of construction will outweigh the costs of the manufacturing process.

Standardised modular systems may, by their repetitious format, appear monotonous and to this end the method lends itself to particular building types.

However, in the right circumstances this characteristic should be of distinct benefit.

An advanced development of modular systems would be to provide a standardised package of unit construction with an easy ability to modify the structures to give individuality for the finishes and details of both materials.

Although modular construction has been around for a number of years, it is felt that current levels of advancement have still not reached their full potential and the opportunities are many.

Safeway store, Taunton

Following a fire that destroyed a large area of the Safeway supermarket in Taunton, Kajima Construction Europe (UK) was appointed to manage its major rebuild. The construction schedule was critical to minimise the time in which the store was not functioning. In addition to the refurbishment, a new cafe, Café Fresco, was added.

The original store comprised a structural steelwork superstructure with brick-and-block cavity walls. The outer leaf, although primarily of brickwork, also had considerable detailing in both claybrick specials and reconstituted stone.

For the reconstruction, it was decided that prefabricated external wall panels would be preferable in order to minimise on-site trades and to ensure a fast rebuild time.Hanson TiS was appointed by Kajima to supply and fix the Wonderwall II panel system - a composite panel comprising Styrofoam sandwiched between two thin steel plates.

The finish comprised 25mm brick slips which matched the existing clay facings perfectly. A particular characteristic of the Wonderwall composite panel is that any type of brick - from extruded wire cut to stock or handmade - can be incorporated with ease. Reconstituted stonework and corbel details were also included in the 100 panels that were fabricated off-site at the Hanson TiS factory. The new Café Fresco also has Wonderwall II external walls.

The project provided an excellent opportunity for Hanson TiS to demonstrate the primary attributes of speed, quality and accuracy in which the latest technology has achieved a traditional appearance.

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