Technical expertise strikes gold

When architects Sheppard Robson commissioned Aliva UK to develop an eye-catching, 3D-effect façade in expanded mesh, the development needed our intensive technical expertise.

The brief for Grafton Street car park was to extend the existing car park and create a striking landmark for the Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Trust’s complex.

A metal façade to help the building breathe

The architects wanted a metal façade that would not only enhance security, but also provide a minimum 75% natural air-flow to eliminate the need for mechanical ventilation. They also wanted each cladding panel to be aligned with a parking bay, and silver horizontal bands to encompass the building on every other floor.

We developed an anodised aluminium expanded mesh façade that stood away from the building to create depth and impact. The panels each folded to a crisp point, resulting in a façade that could be seen at every angle. Expanding aluminium and punching it with apertures weakens the metal. Folding it weakens it further. Because of this we needed to find a combination of the right aperture sizes and folding techniques.

Withstanding all the elements

We tested a variety of aperture sizes and folding techniques for cladding could withstand the worst of the elements. At the same time, each fold needed to be perfectly crisp, so that each panel would be exactly aligned. Our original plan was to secure the cladding to the floor slabs of the car park. This was not possible for two reasons.

First, the building was on a gradient. This meant that if the silver horizontal bands specified for every other floor were fixed to the floor slabs, they would also appear to be sloped, which would not create the right aesthetic.

Second, it was found that if a car were to hit the internal crash barrier at maximum speed, the barrier would deform out to 138mm. This meant that the cladding could not be installed against the building in the normal way.

Bespoke fixing

To resolve these issues, we designed an entirely bespoke fixing system. This involved hanging the cladding panels from wind posts around the building.

Despite minimal physical interaction between the internal structure of the building and the facade, the cladding still had to interact with the inside of the building to meet the requirement for each panel to be exactly aligned with a parking bay. Our wind post solution was able to meet this challenge too, ensuring there was still a relationship between the exterior and interior.

Screen printing

To create a visual story at ground level, Aliva UK’s design for the façade base featured a bespoke, screen-printed urban landscape.

While screen printing on intact cladding panels is comparatively straightforward, ensuring that the images still appeared recognisable on mesh was a key challenge. Again, prototyping helped to achieve the desired finish. We expanded and anodised the metal, then built up the screen printed design in several layers.

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