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BURO HAPPOLD

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The Lowry Centre - Salford

The Lowry Centre forms the centrepiece of Salford Quays - the regeneration of the Salford Docks of the Manchester Ship Canal. One of the National Landmark Projects, the Lowry Centre itself, contains two theatres, two galleries, varied facilities for conferences, and back-of-house rehearsal, catering, and administration areas. Funding sources include the Arts Council, Millennium Commission, erdf, Heritage Lottery Fund, English Partnerships, Salford City Council, and the private sector.

The building design is a significant architectural and engineering challenge. The triangular site is defined on two sides by original dock walls. The 1650-seat Lyric theatre and the 450-seat Adaptable theatre lie on the site's central axis, with galleries forming two equilateral sides. The base of the triangle is an impressive 35m-span entrance canopy.

Engineering challenges centre around the two theatres. The Lyric theatre is surrounded by a 28m-high reinforced-concrete wall which wraps around on seven sides. The two flank walls and the return walls at the stage are vertical, but front walls to the foyer slope at a maximum of 17degrees to the vertical. Large and smaller holes punctuate this main structural element, allowing stairs to 'punch' through the wall, and cantilever balconies for the upper foyer and bars to extend out above the main foyer below. Consequently, the 600mm-thick lower sections of the wall are very highly stressed. The upper sections are reduced to 200mm-thick panels with stiffeners, acting in a horizontal band tying the raking sections back to the vertical flank walls. The thinner panels allow services to run within the overall 600mm thickness to gain access to the foyer roof.

Within the Lyric theatre a steel frame provides the balconies' structure, and together with precast-concrete seating units and ceiling, forms a plenum for supply air under seats.

The Adaptable theatre allows directors the freedom of requesting thrust, proscenium or 'in the round' stage configurations, using moveable seating and stage units running on air cushions. Four levels of seating, in a horseshoe shape, hang from the substantial roof structure - which also supports a rehearsal room. Twenty Macalloy bars 40mm in diameter form the suspension structure for the exposed steelwork frame of the seating. Buro Happold's fire engineers proved to Salford city council that a fire- engineered solution considering the worst possible fire situations provided one-hour fire resistance of the unprotected steelwork frame.

The main plant rooms, orchestra pit, seating stores, wcs and back-of- house areas are contained within the basement. Extending to a maximum 7m below the canal water level, the basement is surrounded by a diaphragm wall waterproofed using the Voltex bentonite clay self-sealing system. This has proved very effective both in function and in ease of construction.

Other elements of the building include a 50m-high tower with multi-shaped central core, surrounded by a steel diagonal grid which itself supports perforated steel cladding.

The Lowry Gallery includes 'fat walls' which support the mezzanine floors, provide display space for Lowry paintings and, within the walls, services riser space for ventilation.

Steve Gregson, Dave Hull, Matthew Lovell, Rod Macdonald

Architect: Michael Wilford

Civil, structural, building services, fire engineering: Buro Happold

£ l the architects' journal 17 September 1998

Lyric theatre - a steel-frame balcony structure with precast-concrete seating

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