Senate House North Block update: Balconies take shape in the main atrium

As work continues on Senate House North Block, the team have been focusing on the two balconies around the main atrium where paving slabs made of Portland stone are being laid.
Portland stone is a limestone from the Tithonian stage of the Jurassic period quarried on the Isle of Portland, Dorset. It is an off-white building material known for its durability. The building’s courtyard façade is also made from this material.

Portland stone tiles are being laid on the balconies.

Portland stone tiles are being laid on the balconies.

The balcony flooring in place.

The balcony flooring in place.

The balconies will also have under floor heating

The balconies will also have under floor heating

Furniture factory visit

Last month, the Senate House North Block project team visited the Senator Group Furniture Factory and Recycling Plant who are the main furniture supplier for the North Block. This furniture supplier was chosen because of their environmental and sustainability credentials, and nearly all of the furniture components are being manufactured in the UK.

Here are some highlights from what the team saw at the plant:

The same style of chairs coming off this assembly line will be going into our offices in North Block.

The same style of chairs coming off this assembly line will be going into our offices in North Block.

Here is a shot looking down at the factory where the chairs and sofas are being upholstered, Sofas similar to the one at the front of the picture will be going onto the balcony in the courtyard and in the reception areas of North Block.

Here is a shot looking down at the factory where the chairs and sofas are being upholstered, Sofas similar to the one at the front of the picture will be going onto the balcony in the courtyard and in the reception areas of North Block.

Here a pressure test is being conducted to check that the table can withstand a large amount of pressure without breaking or tipping over, the table survived.

Here a pressure test is being conducted to check that the table can withstand a large amount of pressure without breaking or tipping over, the table survived.

The majority of the furniture chosen is being manufactured in the UK using recycled materials. For example, the office desks contain at least 48% recycled materials and the rest is made with sustainable materials.

With the majority of the products chosen, at least 99% of the furniture components can be recycled at their end of life.

The team were also shown the recycling plant:

These photos show the outer packaging of furniture which customers have sent back to the factory. This is then sorted and reused or recycled.

These photos show the outer packaging of furniture which customers have sent back to the factory. This is then sorted and reused or recycled.

The polystyrene is recycled in this machine. Once it has been recycled, it is compressed into large blocks which can be reused or sold to other companies.

The polystyrene is recycled in this machine. Once it has been recycled, it is compressed into large blocks which can be reused or sold to other companies.

Fabrics from upholstered furniture are compressed and put into bales. They are then reused by other companies. These bales will go into the insulation underneath car dashboards.

Fabrics from upholstered furniture are compressed and put into bales. They are then reused by other companies. These bales will go into the insulation underneath car dashboards.

 As well as recycling their own waste, The Senator Group recycling plant is also open to the local community


As well as recycling their own waste, The Senator Group recycling plant is also open to the local community

The recycling plant also turns recycled waste into power which powers the furniture factory . The surplus event gets sent back to the National Grid.

The recycling plant also turns recycled waste into power which powers the furniture factory. The surplus even gets sent back to the National Grid.

Seminar rooms and lecture theatres taking shape

Since we last updated you, our team has been working hard to get the seminar rooms and lecture theatres ready in Senate House North Block.

Our new learning spaces are dynamic and state-of the-art, and will enhance the learning and teaching experience at SOAS.

Take a look at our progress so far…

The seminar rooms and lecture theatres on the third floor are nearing completion. Two of the lecture theatres can be made into smaller seminar rooms, using a durable acoustic partition sliding wall

All of the basics have been installed including heating, acoustic panelling, carpets, lighting.

IMG_20160212_111716.jpg_cropped

One of our near-finished seminar rooms.

Close up of the acoustic panelling in the new rooms

Classroom2

There will be four lecture theatres in total in the North Block.

The second floor seminar rooms will be the next to be completed, followed by the first floor.

Starting to take shape

It has been a while since the last North Block blog, so here are a few pictures to bring you up to speed on what has been happening since the start of the summer…
Senate House North Block - third floor

Some of the offices on the third floor (clockwise l-r: two academic offices, the old Director's office - which will be a meeting room, the Finance offices)

 

Up close to some of the features

Up close to some of the building's features (clockwise l-r: the floor has now been laid - it no longer feels like practice on the balance beam when walking around, the pipework in one of the toilets - there are three pipes: hot water, cold water and the rainwater harvester for flushing the toilet with recycled rain water, the wainscoting in the Finance office - the dark wood is original and was taken from somewhere else in the building and re-used here, so the heritage items are not wasted)

The frame for the new glass roof

The frame for the glass roof over the atrium is now in place and you can see the curved, pillow-shape. Some of the glass panels around the edge of the roof have been laid.

 

Adam, Keith and the roof in all its glory

Adam, Keith and the roof in all its glory

Craning a palette over the building to bring back more glass panels

Craning a palette over the building to bring back more glass panels. It was really interesting to see the workers in action while visiting the site. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to wait to see the crane on its return journey with the next glass panel. Maybe next time!

 

 

Work on the new lecture theatres has begun

Alumni & Friends Lecture Theatre (left), Wolfson Lecture theatre (right)

The new atrium and staircase

The floor has been laid in the atrium, and work on the staircase is progressing. It looks dark, but that's because of the scaffolding for the glass roof!

SOAS and the Great Glass Roof

If there’s one thing the Sistine Chapel’s taught us it’s to cast our eyes upwards once in a while; impressive roofs are everywhere from the architectural splendour of the Sydney Opera House to the feat of engineering above Wimbledon’s Court 1. And the North Block is to be no exception.

The focal point of the new development will undoubtedly be the unique double-curvature glass roof over the central courtyard of Senate House. A single curvature creates a barrel-vault shape similar to a train station roof. But a double-curvature design resembles an enormous pillow, as seen for instance above the British Museum.

The roof will be made up of double-glazed panels, each with five layers of glass providing strength, light and heat reflective properties. The gardeners among us will know how hot a greenhouse can get – but there’s nothing to worry about with the SOAS glass roof. The intelligent ventilation design will ensure we won’t swelter on warm days. When the air gets too hot or stale, the building management system will pump cool air taken from around the building into the space.

The roof will be supported by internal columns, which touch the walls of Senate House but are not fixed to them, meaning there is limited damage to the listed building. The steel structure is being manufactured in northern Spain, and the glass panels are being heated and formed under a special process in a factory near Barcelona. The roof will be craned over the building in sections and assembled in the space – definitely a sight to look out for.

The glass will be almost completely colourless, allowing you to gaze upwards at the building’s classic façade, which is being scrubbed clean of the dirt it has accumulated over the years. The roof will create a bright and spacious piazza where people can relax or study in all but the open-air while protected from pesky rainclouds.

I’m sticking with you…

From the back, the wooden panels look like giant fridge magnets

From the back, the wooden panels look like giant fridge magnets

When devising innovative solutions to construction conundrums, SOAS is poles apart from other design and build projects. This week – magnets.

In construction, the floor is usually one of the first things to be finished – which makes sense because otherwise the contractors would have to jetpack around the building site. However, once the floor has been laid, it has to be fitted with a protective covering to avoid the inevitable dirt and damage. This takes time and creates waste – particularly repellent on our build.

SOAS is about to become home to a pioneering new magnetic flooring technology. A steel flooring structure is to be constructed, which doesn’t require the usual levels of protection. The contractors can work on the hard-wearing floor, saving time and reducing the usual amount of construction waste. At the end of the project, the steel just needs to be cleaned and magnet-backed wooden flooring panels are laid on top of the magnetic steel, giving an attractive finish.

From the ground up – or rather, the magnetic floor to the glass roof – the North Block project will be a force to be reckoned with. One word of warning – don’t try lifting the magnetic wooden panels. The magnets are so strong you need a special device to lift them.

A demonstration of how the magnetic floor will look

A demonstration of how the magnetic floor will lookFrom the back, the wooden panels look like giant fridge magnets

Batteries not included

Where's Wall-E?

Two cameras, a tripod and a remote control drone. Not what you’d expect to find on an ordinary construction site. But there’s nothing ordinary about a SOAS construction site.

Last week, SOAS took to the skies, or rather a drone did, to capture shots of the North Block building and people hard at work. The drone reached lofty heights of 15m, hovering like a helicopter to take shots of the inside and outside of the North Block, needing a recharge every 20 minutes.

The images will be used as part of a short promotional film due to be unveiled later this year. The film documents Professor Trevor Marchand’s examination of the relationship between architecture, craft and the way in which people learn in the new extension to the SOAS campus.

We look forward to the premiere!

 

View from the drone

Ten Steps to a BREEAM-Y New Building.

There is a buzzword in building these days – a green, faintly fishy word. BREEAM. It’s an acronym for an international, sustainable standard of construction: the altogether less memorable, Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method.

At SOAS – as anyone who studies or teaches here will know – we care about the environment. And over the last few years the School has set itself the goal of being greener. We’ve already taken steps in this direction by fitting energy efficient windows in the main building and employing an energy officer.

Of course the North Block Project poses a much bigger challenge. Making sure the renovation was sustainable was one of the strict planning conditions imposed by Camden Council. But we want to achieve more than just the minimum requirements. We want to be environmentally friendly, sustainable and energy efficient. And we want to feel justifiably smug about it.

You guessed it. That’s where BREEAM comes in.

Since it was launched in 1990, over 200,000 buildings have been certified. Points are awarded wherever sustainable, safe and comfortable construction is a made a priority. These points are added together to produce an overall score of Pass, Good, Very Good, Excellent or Outstanding.

To achieve a pass in a listed building like the North Block is bound to be quite a struggle. That’s why we’re aiming for a score of Excellent. So how can it be done? Well there are ten main issues to address:

1. Energy: Operational Energy & CO2

Our number one priority is to reduce the carbon footprint of the building. In a new build you can do this by insulating the floors, walls and windows. In a renovation project you might construct an insulated façade and replace the windows.  Fair enough you might say, but Senate House is a Grade II* listed building. We can’t fix a dirty great frontage on the outside. It would cover up all that beautiful Portland stone! We can’t obscure the lovely historic finishes on the inside either. Don’t even mention replacing the windows.

To achieve the important point for carbon reduction, our designers have had to look at the bigger picture of heating, ventilation and energy consumption:

  • Heating – new boilers are being fitted in the Brunei Gallery which will be doubly as efficient when linked to North Block. More than 90% of the energy from gas will be transmitted to heat and piped around both buildings. There will also be an option to link the excess energy to the Central Heating and Power network in Bloomsbury in the future.

Ventilation – With around 80 people in a lecture theatre, just opening the windows isn’t the solution. But the designers came up with a cunning way to cool the North Block without the use of expensive, inefficient air conditioning. Going back to traditional methods, a series of fans is being installed to draw cool air through the building.

  • Energy consumption – most of the energy consumption is through electric lighting, so LED lights, the most efficient and modern lighting solution, are being fitted throughout the building.

2. Management: Policy, Commissioning, Site Management & Procurement

To control energy use, electric lighting will be connected to a building management system. When you enter a classroom you’ll have to turn on the lights manually if it’s not bright enough. Wow – old school! But if people aren’t around, the lights will switch off automatically. The corridor lighting will also be managed by the system, controlling the number of bulbs ablaze late in the evening. It will also control the heating using much the same method.

3.  Health and Wellbeing: indoor & external issues (Noise, Light, Air Quality)

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do to combat this issue in the big, sleepless, smoggy city of London.

4. Transport: Transport-Related CO2 & Location Related Factors

Interestingly, we’re tasked with not only reducing the building’s carbon footprint but also the various methods people use to get to and from it. But with London’s excellent bus routes and cycle lanes, and because many of our staff get around just by walking, we should breeze this one. Additionally, the new building will provide excellent facilities for cyclists, including showers and safe bike storage.

5. Water Consumption & Efficiency

The installation of the 14,000-litre rainwater harvester will improve the building’s water consumption by collecting precipitation and channelling it to other parts of the building. The tank will collect water from the glass roof and clean it using ultraviolet light. The water will then be redirected to a tank on the 6th floor of the building and used in the toilets.

6. Materials: Embodied Impacts of Building Materials

The natural materials used in the construction of Senate House and the green measures designers have put in place far outweigh the achievements of even the most energy efficient new building. This is mainly because new building materials, such as reinforced concrete and steel, contain vast amounts of carbon.

7. Waste: Construction Resource Efficiency & Waste Management/Minimisation

The construction and demolition work at the site operates on a zero landfill policy. All the waste materials are being recycled. When the building is in operation, this policy will continue as much as possible with on-site recycling facilities for segregated waste.

8. Pollution: External Air & Water Pollution

Again, this is a factor that is out of our control so sadly we can’t count this as a credit.

9. Land Use: Type of Site & Building Footprint

As the renovation is being carried out on brownfield land, we score full marks on this category – more than making up for the lost points for air pollution. Bonus!

10. Ecology: Ecological Value, Conservation & Enhancement of the Site

This is perhaps the mission statement of the North Block project – to conserve and enhance Senate House and to bring ecological value.

Unfortunately – because of all the noise and smoke of central London – we can’t quite achieve the very highest accolade of BREEAM Outstanding. But our sights are set squarely on making Excellent. Besides, we’d never swap the capital – we are SOAS, University of London after all.

And then there were light fittings…

How often do you notice a skirting board, or comment on how beautiful a light fitting is? Probably not often. These features are not exactly the most prominent parts of a room, nor do they usually inspire much interest. But for the Senate House development, every detail – no matter how small – must be carefully considered to ensure it is in-keeping with the heritage and style of the building.

Senate House, like the main SOAS building, was designed by the architect Charles Holden and was completed in 1937. Until 1957 it was the tallest office building in London, but at just 64m Senate House is dwarfed by the 308m stature of The Shard, the current tallest building in the European Union. The building is typical of Modernist architecture and Holden’s distinct style of pared-down minimalism. Every feature of Senate House is protected by its grade II* listing, including any additions or alterations made during the North Block development – even the new light fittings.

Before any alterations or extensions are made to a listed building, consent must be granted by the local or borough council to ensure that the character and historic value of the building is not going to be compromised by the development. All new features, such as the sample light fittings which have recently been delivered to the site, must be approved by London Borough of Camden’s Conservation Officer before they can be installed.

Many of the original fixtures and fittings were designed by Holden and crafted specifically for the building in the style of the Arts and Crafts movement, an early influence of Holden’s. The role of the Conservation Officer is to consider the history and significance of the design of each original feature, comparing the new samples with the originals to ensure the materials and appearance of the new light fittings are true to the originals and worthy of the listed building. Once they receive the seal of approval, they can be fitted.

Who would have thought that such an insignificant feature could be subject to such care and attention?

An Interview with Henry Armstrong: Project Manager at Graham Construction

Can you give us an outline of the project as a whole – what are the various stages of the regeneration going to include?

We are doing a complete refurbishment of the North Block of Senate House. We’re stripping out all the non-original partition walls, reinstating original and new floor finishes and upgrading and replacing the ceiling finishes. We’ll be totally re-wiring the North Block, with new electrical and plumbing installations. We’re refurbishing the existing internal and external windows, cleaning and repairing the external stone surfaces of the courtyard and last, but not least, constructing the new glazed roof enclosure of the courtyard.

What has been happening on site so far?

The official start date on site for works is 1st December, but up until now we’ve been carrying out some preparatory design development and procuring sub-contractors – electricians, mechanics, ground workers etc.

What are the main challenges of such a big project?

There are some technical challenges. We have restricted access to the courtyard – there’s no vehicular access at all, so to combat that we’ll have to lift machinery over the roof of Senate House by crane and take as much through the basement as possible. There’re also heritage challenges – we need to maintain the existing fixtures, fittings and finishes and carry out some restoration work to English Heritage’s standards.

How are you going to preserve the characteristics of the original building?

We’re putting up temporary protection around the original features, fixtures and fittings. We’re also making sure that any new elements that we’re introducing are aesthetically sympathetic to the original features.

Give us an idea of how the finished development will look?

It’ll look amazing! The courtyard with its glazed roof canopy will have a real wow factor. There are some artist’s impressions up on the hoardings which give a good idea of how it will look.

What are you working on right at this moment?

We’ve been setting up the staff welfare huts and site accommodation. In a couple of weeks, we’ll be bringing the plant onto the site – then the hard work will start.