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For at least seven years there had been discussions about a new art centre in Nottingham, a city which has existing galleries and a national profile as a very active art and design scene. What Nottingham city council decided to build was a group of exhibition galleries with a space specifically for performance art, that lineal descendant of the Happening of the 60s and ultimately 20s Dada performance events. Most such companies have no fixed home and Nottingham will now have a venue for them. Caruso St John won the competition following a 1¢ hour interview and started on a tour of similar spaces around Europe. Adam Caruso says, 'We often returned to the work of Gordon Matta-Clark and the way he had a restaurant downstairs from his studio in SoHo, New York. Something we were very interested in was the coincidence that our site was on the edge of Nottingham's Lace Market, a place rather like SoHo with found spaces - and a generosity of space.

'I think the Nottingham curators [operating as the client] could see that we were interested in their programme for the site not an empty aesthetic. We aren't really into aesthetics. We are interested in form.'

Working for a client which is a city authority and also the planning authority can have its moments. But Caruso is enthusiastic: 'Nottingham have been an incredible city council and client. And senior officers are absolutely key members of the team and senior planners (they were on our selection panel) have been absolutely brilliant. The council is very pro-business and prodevelopment and because of that there are very good people in it.

It's been a real pleasure and makes you feel optimistic.'


The architect's appointment was a standard SSA99 with no revisions, Arup did all the engineering, quantity surveyor was Leeds practice Jackson Coles Acoustic consultant, Tim Lewers, was among a number of specialist consultants which have had input.

Access consultant is David Bonnett. Caruso says, We have had a long relationship with David. You need access statements and when we did Walsall with him we found we could work strategically. But since then everything has become much more circumscribed.

Britain is in the forefront and is very, very demanding. We are working in France at the moment and it is going the same way.'

The main contract, which was signed in mid November is the local authority version of JCT 98 with full measurements.

Caruso says, 'This is the first time we have had a single stage tender for everything. We went out with a full schedule and full drawings. Modern construction is difficult enough to do but this is a complicated job and we were fastidious and neurotic producing nearly 200 drawings. It's slightly absurd because the contractor won't have opened every one of them and after the appointment we have to make sure that he does.'

CADDrawings were done using MicroStation PowerDraft with some feasibility studies done on VectorWorks. The practice started off with Macs and so used MicroStation. Caruso says, 'Changing to AutoCAD would have been too traumatic. We use a lot of big models but we don't do presentation drawings. We start to use CAD quite early [in a project] as a kind of design tool. But we don't think it canges the form of our architecture. Our production drawings are very like what they were when we were handdrawing.'

The practice has recently used an extranet on a project at Kings Cross but here, Caruso says, 'Emails are a general problem because contractors tend to use them instead of communicating.

The extranet is good because of its effect on the quantity of hard copy. But at Nottingham I have a feeling that because it is a conventional contract it's not necessary. .

The practices uses the electronic version of NBS but here, Caruso says, there is one part of the envelope specification were we worked with Schulman Smith - even here the notes are all NBS referenced.'

MANAGING Nottingham wanted a project manager and Caruso StJohn was involved in the interviews and selection of Hornagold and Hills.

How does working to the people you have helped to appoint?

Caruso is very happy with the situation.

He says, 'I used to be hugely sceptical of project management largely because historically we had to do everything ourselves. But in the last couple of years we have discovered that when they are good they are fantastic. But when they are bad they are terrible and you have to do all the work they are supposed to do.

'Working with Hornagold and Hills has been very good.

They have huge experience with Lottery funding and have a fantastic capacity to marshal together all the things needed to confirm the commitment the Arts Council is making. In the end we lead the design team meetings, they lead the project team meetings.'

BUILDING The triangular site is on the edge of Nttingham's Lace Market area bounded on its west and north east sides by busy roads. They remain at grade but the site dips sharply from the north down to the south where there is a low level access rout from the rest of the city. A set of grand open air stairs along the curving east wall manages the pedestrian transition The building is complicated by teaching spaces and offices along the outer wall and a basement cafÚ but it can be thought of as a big warehouse with top lit galleries, one 10 metres high, at the upper level and a big eight metre high space in the basement for performances. This is not black box stuff. To start off with everything is to be pained white or left as natural concret - robist but not neutral, in Carusoe's words.Caruso speaks admiringly of the theatre consultants suggested by the client, Charcoalblue, which has advised on such things as moving 'theatrical rigs around the big space. Working with them has involved us in a very sharp, open process of developing new ways in performance space. . It has been a really productive collaboration. ' SIZING UP Project architect is Stephanie Webs. She explains that a great deal of value engineering has already taken place although the contractor has just been appointed and the subcontract packages are yet to be let. The complicated enabling works, involving rerouting massive local district heating supply lines, have just been completed and the basic structural strategy agreed of of building everything below ground oor level in concrete with ground oor and above in structural steel clad largely with pre-cast concrete panels.

These panels are scalloped, dark green, through-coloured concrete made by Decomo, a number of them cast against a giant lace pattern to be specially crocheted for the job. Webs says, 'We wanted the panels to be rough: they have to be fairly tall and they are to have areas of very detailed ornament. We are near the Lace Market and so we took it as a reference for our building.

'So there was the idea of using lace as a pattern. And then came the question of how to transfer a lace pattern to the concrete faþade. We have now found a person who will do a piece of lace by hand but using much thicker thread than the original - maybe a scale of 10 to one. But we are still deciding. Will we use the giant lace itself as a mould? We could do a 3D scam and do a digital mould. Or we could have the same effect by casting against it and making a rubber mould.'.Whatever is decided, the vertical panels will sit on a black concrete plinth and some sections of the elevation will have vertical gold anodised mullions to enhance the three dimensional quality of the visual ensemble.

INTERIOR ROBUSTNESS On the ground oor internal walls are 12mm plasterboard on 18mm think wbp ply on metal framing fixed to the gallery walls.

This slightly elaborate arrangement allows the easily-patched and painted plasterboard to have screws and hanging fittings constantly attached and removed. The plasterboard is a kind of sacrificial layer.

The performance space walls are either concrete or block work with a few plaster on metal frame partitions. The metal framing comes in different sizes to cope with quite high walls. The walls in fairfaced concrete will be the result of heavy persuasion and high quality formwork. Webs says dryly, 'We have asked for sample areas. In the lobby and the bar area exposed concrete is not painted and we have ply panels to the walls stained in dark greens and reds.' Toilet walls are similarly stained but stained MDF rather than ply - as are the bespoke cubicles.

Lobby and reception oors are an oak Triboard oor.

Webs says, 'We have used Triboard before this on oors and it can be used for furniture. It is lade up of three layers of solid oak each orientated at 90 degrees to the adjacent layer. The [sandable] top and bottom layers are 5mm thick and the core is 16mm - all solid oak. It comes from Austria or Germany and is common in Esurope.

And it cones in big sheet sizes - here 1.25 by 2.4 with tongues and grooves on the edges. The surface has 80mm wide strips simulating floorboards. But, Webs says, 'You hardly read t as boards. It's hard wearing, is laid in panels and can be sanded for maintenance. We will probably seal it with a matt sealant. But maybe we'll be leaving it untreated - that's to be tested.'

The ceiling coffers in the galleries are lined with ply cut and neatly sanded. Rooflignts are all made by a company called Glazing Vision. They are white powder coated aluminium frames with security diffusing glass. Gaps between the edges of several coffers will serve to hold lighting tracks - and double up as the means of extracting air from the galleries. Conditioned air is introduced at high level through a continuous slot around the walls.

There is carpet from Scandinavian Collection in the offices, Triboard in the education spaces and the basement. Ceilings in the performance space, mezzanine, meeting room, bar and cafÚ are coloured acoustic spray from Oscar Acoustics .

GREEN UP AND DOWN The flat roof is not laid to falls and is waterproofed by a liquid tanking system and then treated to a sedum extensive green roof (not an intensive turf roof). It is also bedded between the rooflights and on the big canopy at the front door.

CARUSO ST JOHN: NOTTINGHAM ARTS CENTRE SPECIFICATION SHEET PRODUCT AND WHERE USED MANUFACTURER ALTERNATIVES CONSIDERED REASONS FOR FINAL CHOICE Structural and glazed external envelope Sipral Pin-point structural glazing assemblies Able to accommodate the variations in cladding types within the faþade GRP cladding to the solid sections of building and roof Sandwich design Seamless aluminium cladding GRP would more easily adapt to the architectural form; appearance and very low maintenance Feature metal and glass staircase.

Specialist feature metal and glass fire doors Artefakt None High-quality precision metalwork in stainless steel with LED feature light within glass components Specialist feature stone cladding - backlit onyx A Bernacca or Grein Italia None Final supplier dependent on final colour and pattern Modular reconstituted glass flooring Vitruvius Traditional modular slab stone Design decision based on appearance and maintenance Limestone flooring Stone Age Masonry New Image Stone Bianco Client choice from sample options Underfloor heating and cooling system Universa Tepelnß Technika Contractor's assessment and choice General specification by services engineer.

Final product supplied direct by contractor Radiant chilled ceiling systems Krantz Komponnenten or Hennlich Industrietechnik Two different systems currently under review. Krantz for suspended ceilings and metal boarding Under review Internal blinds Silent Gliss None Designer and contractor familiar with product Bathroom and kitchen brassware Vola UK Hansgrohe, Duravit Client choice from proposed optional ranges Specialist shower brassware Fratelli Fantini None As above Kitchen appliances Miele Gaggenau, AEG-Electrolux As above Ironmongery Timage None Architect's specification Metal cladding to doors Rimex Metals Other manufacturers Researching local stockist in Prague Internal glass doors Hourglass UK Other manufacturers As above

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