Concrete’s softer side

Ripple effect: Concrete’s softer side is showcased in new projects by Zaha Hadid, Timothy Hatton Architects and Walter Jack Studio.

Zaha Hadid Architects

Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects for bathroom manufacturer Roca, the 1100 square metre Roca London Gallery at Chelsea Harbour includes exhibition areas, a meeting room and multimedia suite. The fluid ‘carved-out’ appearance of the facade and interior spaces is inspired by the movement of water. Linking both the inside and outside materially is the expressive use of glass reinforced concrete.

GRC is a thin section concrete that uses alkali-resistant glass fibres for reinforcement instead of steel. By eschewing the traditional need for reinforcement cover (due to the non-rusting properties of the glass fibres) it is possible to create structures that are both lightweight and strong. As well as providing good levels of compressive strength, GRC’s ability to function in bending means that it is particularly suited to the construction of hollow, lightweight components.

To optimise the manufacturing process, the facade and internal display area was rationalised geometrically and then subdivided into 272 separate GRC panels incorporating straight joints. The panels not only had to be self-supporting, but also conform to transport and handling criteria.

Both the panels and the moulds used to form them were created using 3D modelling techniques – linked to CNC machining – and produced in sequence to ensure full compatibility with each other. The facade is constructed from 36 separate prefabricated GRC panels measuring four metres high by two metres wide, and varying in width from 150mm to 1150mm. Located between the panels are 20mm foam expansion joints. The installation process involved sliding the panels into position and then fixing them at the top and bottom using a Unistrut facade support system. A clear, weather-proof and anti-graffiti coating was used to protect the outer face of the facade.

Designed to accommodate multi-directional structural loads, the 60mm-thick interior GRC panels measure up to 2.2 metres high and comprise a robust honeycomb mesh sandwiched between two waffled concrete layers.

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