SSDA 2019: Steel aids staff retention

1 November 2019

The steel frame is braced for stability and incorporates moment frames

Exposed steelwork and aesthetically detailed connections are the order of the day for an IT company’s multi-million-pound headquarters.

Accommodating nearly 500 employees, the new Tombola headquarters in Sunderland offers 2,300 sq m of floor space and features an exposed steel frame, along with an integrated heating and cooling system that has been cast into the exposed concrete floor slabs.

Award: Tombola HQ, Sunderland
Architect: Ryder Architecture
Structural engineer: s h e d
Main contractor: Brims Construction
Client: Tombola

Marc Horn, managing director of structural engineer s h e d, says the exposed steelwork has been aesthetically detailed to a standard rarely seen on commercial projects. 

“Most commercial schemes have all their steelwork connections hidden in ceilings or floor zones. The majority of the steelwork at Tombola is visible and had to enhance all the other parts of the design,” he explains.  

“By creating this superb new building, the company will be better placed to retain its talent, as the impact of this is often underestimated. By keeping jobs and therefore associated spending power within our local economy, the effects go far beyond just Tombola employees.”

The IT company’s new glazed headquarters boasts modern open-plan offices throughout its uppermost first and second floors, while a full‑height centrally-positioned atrium will flood the inner parts of the structure with natural light.

The ground floor has a reception area, bistro and gym for employees, with bleacher-style stairs leading to the open-plan upper floors.

The building also boasts a diverse range of informal training and presentation suites with the latest AV/video conferencing technology.

The three-storey structure’s steel frame is braced for stability, but also incorporates moment frames, which create the building’s dramatic overhang and cantilevers along its eastern facade. 

The office floorplates are long-span areas with exposed concrete soffits providing radiant heating and cooling. In order to allow the floors to appear to float and the fenestration to span fully to the soffits, all supporting columns are detailed as box sections with plates supporting the slabs above. 

The building’s main columns are also box sections. Horn says this is to keep their size to a minimum and create the sleek lines of the building that continue from the horizontal to the vertical. 

A series of rectangular hollow section (RHS) edge floor beams are arranged to support the brickwork facade, providing a solution that is efficient in terms of minimising the overall number of steel members.

What the judges said:

“Through simple yet sophisticated design, plus rigorous attention to detail, this headquarters building exhibits exceptional quality and value.”

The building’s audio/visual and fire alarm systems are hidden within the hollow section structure, which is used as a containment system to keep the sleek and uninterrupted finish.

Topping the structure, the roof appears to float, which is made possible by using another moment frame. All the steel roof structure is within a shallow construction zone, with purlins placed inside the depth of the column section rafters.

“The building could not have been delivered in its amazing form without using a steel-framed superstructure, as the material allowed us to achieve the required long spans and open spaces,” says Brims Construction director Richard Wood.

Produced by the BCSA and Steel for Life in association with Construction Manager

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