Thatch cladding installation on UEA Enterprise Centre a ‘world first’

The installation of thatched cassettes cladding the £11.6m University of East Anglia Enterprise Centre – said to be the UK’s greenest commercial building – will mark a “world construction first,” according to contractor Morgan Sindall.

Thatch cassette cladding is one of the key sustainable elements being incorporated into the build project, developed by the Adapt Low Carbon Group and delivered by Morgan Sindall. The company says this is the first time this thatch cassette cladding system has been used anywhere in the world.

The concept of thatch cassettes was conceived by Morgan Sindall and its design team with project architect, Architype. The process involves fabricating a set of timber cassette modules that are filled with straw in local thatcher’s barns across Norfolk. The prefabricated thatch cassette panels are then transported to site and erected onto the facade of the building as a rainscreen cladding.

The cassettes have been constructed by local joiners, Fox Joinery, and thatched in straw from the Norfolk Suffolk borders by a team led by the Master Thatcher of East Anglia, Stephen Letch.

The cassettes are thatched in a workshop off-site and then brought onto site and installed like normal cladding. The thatchers are able to work indoors, negating the need for the work to be done in-situ, avoiding the risks associated with working at height and removing the reliance on good weather to enable work to take place, as well as opening up the winter season to thatching work. Around 294 cassettes will be installed onto the building over the coming months, covering 1,200 square metres – the equivalent of ten domestic dwellings.

Stuart Thompson, senior design manager at Morgan Sindall, said: “Sourcing local materials and connecting with local suppliers, craftsmen and tradespeople were key commitments on this project. The straw that has been used for the thatch was sourced less than 20 miles from the site and our delivery team uses the skills of a group of local thatchers.

“Thatching is a traditional craft which is generally in decline but we have already seen evidence that by using thatch in this innovative way on this project, the trade is generating a renewed interest that will help to reinvigorate this industry locally, and in time, nationally.

“Thatch is a carbon-negative material, it’s also highly insulative and offers exceptional rainscreen protection – so it is a great material to use as cladding. The use of cassettes to place the thatch on the walls as cladding is a unique approach and a great example of the creativity and originality which the project team has brought to this project.”

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