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  • 25 Apr 2017
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The solution: Morgan Sindall goes round the bend in Slough

The challenge: Creating an iconic structure on a tight budget

The Curve, a £22m cultural hub in central Slough, is shaped like a giant “r-shaped” tube. Its complex silver facade curves in plan and in vertical section to accommodate a library, a 280-seat multi-purpose performance venue and space for council meetings and exhibitions.

The background: Playing a key part in the regeneration of central Slough

The 4,500 sq m facility forms a key component of the ongoing regeneration of the town centre, and is part of an entirely new commercial district known as the Heart of Slough.

The structure is 90m long and 15m high and forms a new daytime internal pedestrian “street” – effectively a shortcut across the town centre. It opens on to two new public squares, at each end of the building, and gently wraps around the rear of a listed Anglican church.

Built by main contractor Morgan Sindall for client Slough Urban Regeneration, it is based on designs by Bblur architecture (external design) and CZWG Architects (interiors).

The package to construct the aluminium and glass envelope, which also wraps over the top to form the roof, has been described as a “complete one-off” by facade specialist Colorminium, which was responsible for the detailed design and installation of the entire envelope – including the roofing, cladding, curtain walling, plant enclosures and brise‑soleils, plus doorsets and lobbies. Its £4.5m contract lasted 18 months.

The solution: Optimising cladding panel sizes and focusing on 3D design

An original plan, to fabricate the composite cladding in 6m-high curved aluminium panels, was considered beyond the limits of the budget. Instead, Colorminium refined a system of optimised flat panels, each around 1 sq m in size, with enough flexibility to be bent in-situ to create the building’s curve.

According to Kieran Mallinson, director of Colorminium, the key to making this work correctly was properly setting up the backing structure the panels are clipped on to.

The building’s primary steel frame features a curved steel liner sheet that encapsulates the structure. Apertures accommodate vertical finger strips for glazing and rooflights, plus a long inclined screen around the base of the main facade, known as “the eyebrow”. The liner sheet is covered by a zone of insulation, including breather membranes and vapour barriers, then a bracketry carrier system to hold the cladding.

“This was a particular challenge as the glazing had to be installed flush with the surface of the cladding, which raised technical challenges related to drainage and water runoff to keep it watertight,” says Mallinson.

Further time and money was saved by a detailed 3D model in Autodesk Revit, which ironed out clashes, although the team still encountered issues with tolerances in the steel frame when on site. “You can design for different scenarios but it is never exactly what you expect when you get to site,” says Mallinson.

All images: Hufton + Crow

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