The Concrete Proof

31.07.09

Concrete has appeared in many structural forms since its standardisation: through the smooth surfaces of Art Deco architecture, the practicality of post-war housing, the concrete jungle of 1960s-1980s tower blocks, and is now once again enjoying a more widely popular focus, as a new generation of designers celebrate its versatility and strength focussing on sleek, and stylish modern exteriors.

Above all, concrete is one of the most versatile and resilient building materials, especially in the designs of the last twenty years, where steel skeletons reinforce pre-cast concrete panels. Many modern office and residential blocks use steel frame floors with concrete infill to maximise the strength of a building that covers several storeys. Employed effectively, concrete is a cost-effective, flexible and sustainable material.

RPS’ award-winning structural engineering designs for concrete buildings have secured much acclaim including a research centre for the University College of Cork (Sustainability Design Award - Concrete Society of Ireland, 2007) and the Caladh Mór sheltered harbour development in Inis Meaín, which won the Irish Concrete Society Award 2009.

The Braid Museum and Arts Centre in Ballymena recently secured the Engineering Excellence award from the Association for Consultancy and Engineering, a commendation in the 2008 RIAI Irish Architecture Awards and was overall winner in the RICS Northern Ireland Awards for Excellence in the Built Environment as well as winning the individual category of Building Conservation.

Contributing to the urban regeneration of Ballymena, the Braid Museum provides a new and exciting modern extension to the existing Town Hall, standing on a site that has been the hub of local civic life for many generations. RPS provided the civil, structural and fire engineering for the project – including the structural design, and the refurbishment modelling for the town hall to provide a new auditorium and stage area with fly tower.

The foundations comprised traditional pad and strips over the majority of the footprint with a basement provided over part of the site which was constructed using secant piled walls and designed to a Category 4 structural integrity as defined in BS 8102.  The superstructure comprised reinforced concrete beams and columns supporting a mixture of in-situ concrete and precast slabs.  Reinforced concrete was chosen as the main structural material to assist with acoustic damping between the various sections of the building and also to help provide thermal mass to minimise the amount of energy required to heat and power the building as well as its versatility in providing an economical structural solution to a complicated building form.

The museum offers contemporary conference, tourism and civic facilities with disabled access throughout, including a large main theatre with associated dressing rooms and flexible spaces for workshop and performance use. Described on the Qype online review site as “a welcome addition to Ballymena, .. a really positive change [which] improves the image of the area,” the success of the new centre clearly marks it as the right answer to the civic regeneration of the town, introducing new, modern facilities while improving and restoring the heritage value of the existing listed Town Hall.

Loughborough University’s new multi-storey car park provides a welcome space-saving solution to balancing the requirement for development land to improve campus buildings, whilst maintaining sufficient car parking facilities. As part of the University’s East Park Campus development plan, the new multi-storey car park replaces several surface-lined car parks, freeing these areas for much needed redevelopment of university buildings which are outdated and do not sufficiently meet the university’s needs.

The car park uses 500 tonnes of galvanised steel with precast concrete floors and staircases. RPS provided the architectural and CDM services for the hardwearing structure, which is designed for long service, and effective low maintenance. It uses an innovative feature to ensure the building height is kept to a minimum while providing maximum parking space. Universal column sections are employed for both columns and beams and are joined with moment connections and splices to reduce floor depth without any loss of strength.

RPS provides expert professional services for engineering projects, including civil, structural, and mechanical engineering, design, and planning services.