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Eastern promise

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A timber frame helped speed up construction of the Institute of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Durham University

Liverpool, at 252 square miles, with a population of 1.5 million people and a per capita income of about £10,775 per annum, basks in the glory of European City of Culture status.Maybe the award could transform its fortunes, as it did five years ago to the city of Sharjah, when it won the Cultural Capital of the Arab World award. Stretching across 1,000 square miles of the United Arab Emirates but with a population of just 500,000, who earn the same per capita income as Liverpool, it has done rather well for itself.

Sharjah's gross domestic product is US$3.5 billion (£2.1 billion). Mind you, it was oil and gas (rather than Scouse wit, The Beatles and a Mersey Ferry) that generated 75 per cent of the income, and now Sharjah has the UEA's third largest concentration of banks, representing a total investment of US$1.6 billion (£0.95 billion).

Why do I tell you this? Well, the Ruler of Sharjah, Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al-Qassimi, has funded the latest extension to the University of Durham - a purposebuilt, two-storey, 1,200m 2facility, which houses seminar and reading rooms, offices and amenities for students and staff. Designed by Howarth Litchfield Partnership of Durham, it houses the Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (IMEIS). As the next conference to be held at the IMEIS is entitled 'International Seminar on Islamic Wealth Creation, with workshops such as 'Whither Islamic Banking', I thought it might be nice to give you some context. Sheikh Sultan Al-Qassimi is also an alumnus of the university.

Framework agreement

The architects are retained by a framework agreement and have built much of Durham's stock, from the science laboratories to the physics department, residential units and classrooms.

The new IMEIS facility is situated on a sloping site, where architect Mike Litchfield says he wanted to create 'an enclave between the site and the surrounding dense woodland'. The well-used footpath at the top of the site means views down over the building were a significant factor in the design of the roof form and materials.

Perhaps surprisingly, there is no Islamic cultural references within the form of the building, and Litchfield confirms that while 'avoiding artifice (using) simple materials, finishes and colours' he has given it 'a refined Mediterranean feel'.

The original design of the building was premised on the conventional masonry aesthetic of most Durham University buildings. However, after examining the programme, it was decided that the speed and buildability benefits of a timber-framed facade set within a steel frame would be best to meet the tight deadline of the new academic year. The structural steel frame and timber-based infill panels also better facilitated the desired subtle curves of the main elevations and roofline.

The timber-framed structure, designed, manufactured and erected by Timber Frame Solutions, comprises pre-formed panels, known as zero-heat panels because their excellent thermal performance should eliminate the need for compensatory space heating. The single-skin panels comprise 240mm Masonite beams filled with Warmcel 500 high-performance insulation and achieve a U-value of 0.14W/m 2K.As a result of the conversion to a timber frame, the subcontractor estimates that six weeks were saved against the original masonry programme. In fact, during the course of construction, before the steeply sloping peat site had been planted, severe rainstorms caused ground slippage and delays to the contract programme of about six weeks. The implication (though uncorroborated) is that the works were brought back on track by the speed of the timber framework installation.

Design and construction

The initial phase of construction was the erection of the structural steel frame with mass concrete raft floors.

The single skin infill panels then had to be incorporated into the steel frame, including high-performance timberframed windows that form the majority of the facade.

Timber cladding, specified to match the window frames, surrounds the windows on the front of the building as well as covering part of the upper section of the gables. The remaining wall areas were fitted with fibre cement board to receive a terracotta-coloured render, Glasal cladding and panels of decorative glazed tiles below the roofline.

The result is a slightly mannered building with quirky stylistic traits, which, to some eyes, sit uncomfortably with the site. The 'floating' treatment of the render at ground level, for example, hasn't been taken convincingly around the side elevations; the structural treatment of the extended eaves beams with timber ties is a tad gratuitous; and the landscaping appears to be a bit of an afterthought (or without-thought). But as the first timber building on campus, maybe it is a good start to encourage the university client to become even more adventurous in future.


'ZERO HEAT'PANELS Structure: 240mm deep Masonite beams, single-skin panels

Insulation: Warmcel 500 (panel filled using the Turbofill process)

Internal sheathing: Paneline (6mm)

External sheathing: Panelvent (9mm)

Service zone: 25mm battens fixed to Paneline

Water resisting membrane: Frameshield (to protect frame during construction)

U-Value: 0.14W/m 2


Timber cladding, 12mm Viros fibrecement board to receive terracottacoloured render, Glasal Cladding and decorative glazed tiles


INTERNAL WALLS Structure 89mm x 38mm CLS timber stud frame set within steelwork columns

CREDITS CLIENT University of Durham, Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies

ARCHITECT/PROJECT MANAGER Howarth Litchfield Partnership




PROJECT VALUE £1,614,244.00

COMPLETION DATE 27 August 2002



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