Manchester’s Sir Henry Royce Institute demanded a solution of exceptional performance but also architectural merit.
Ramboll Sir Henry Royce Institute
Recent advancements in concrete technology are enabling engineers to design innovative building solutions that deliver far superior finishes, strength and durability.
When considered early in the design stage, these technologies help bring many complex schemes to life.
The use of these advanced materials in the UK is starting to gather momentum. One of Ramboll’s current projects is the Sir Henry Royce Institute in Manchester, which uses precast concrete to meet some tight site constraints and a wide range of accommodation typologies.
This will sit alongside the National Graphene Institute and Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre. The trio of buildings will form part of the University of Manchester’s £1bn 10-year Estates Strategy.
The 16,000 sq m Sir Henry Royce Institute, built for materials science research and innovation, will feature a variety of spaces, including ‘vibration ultra-sensitive’ space for the imaging and characterisation of materials research.
To resolve the need for low and ultra-low vibration environments, a precast concrete solution has been chosen to deliver mass and strength to the building’s structure, while also ensuring that the size of the columns does not overly reduce the usable area.
These will support the building’s large floorplate and accommodate heavy scientific equipment. The vibration environment requirements for floors two to six will be met by using a hybrid precast / in situ slab with a combined thickness of 350 mm in the central and southern bays, in accordance with VC-A vibration criteria.
“The precast concrete will deliver an elegant and smooth surface, meeting the architect’s vision for exposed concrete areas”
Similarly, an enhanced slab thickness of 450 mm will be used in the northern bay to target VC-B vibration criteria, taking into consideration the conditions created by people walking around the equipment – the primary source of vibration. These specific requirements will be designed for, whilst maintaining consistent finished floor levels. The increased thickness also efficiently allows for a 50 per cent increase in laboratory variable (live) load.
The hybrid in situ precast slabs for the upper floors have been extensively modelled (statically and dynamically) with accurate offsite construction panelisation to refine the vibration performance. VC criteria analysis has been carried out by post-processing the modal analysis in a bespoke programming script developed in-house by Ramboll.
Aesthetics meet performance
In addition to satisfying the physical structural elements, the precast concrete will deliver an elegant and smooth surface, meeting the architect’s vision for exposed concrete areas.
Close collaboration on the detailing between Ramboll and the architect, MEP engineers and contractors throughout the design period has ensured a coherent strategy for precast joint positions and exposed versus non-exposed slab soffits.
Ramboll Sir Henry Royce Institute Typical slab unitised 3D model
The Sir Henry Royce Institute showcases the possibilities of a precast concrete solution, and how stringent performance criteria, including vibration, can be achieved. This was heightened by the additional engineering challenges of a medium-rise building.
Through the use of advanced digital design tools, the team has incorporated accurate offsite construction panelisation and been able to demonstrate the importance of integrating MEP strategies, combined with thoughtful consideration of architectural aims.
Bringing forward the downstream data and input from other disciplines – such as builders’ work locations, core wall openings and cast-in elements – prior to starting construction helps clients and the design team make informed decisions at an earlier stage, when changes can be more easily and cost-effectively made.
Programme risk removed
This also de-risks the programme, which is where clients are seeing real value in offsite construction solutions such as precast concrete. Additionally, combining digital design tools produces clear visualisation of quantitative design data that supports decision-making.
“The latest concrete technology is spurring an increase in precast proprietary component suppliers”
The standardisation of components ensures a reduction in non-standard sizes, which can be done without compromising architectural intent while also reducing waste.
Costs can be reduced through fewer site deliveries, which can be accurately timed to help keep programmes on track, aside from cuitng down site traffic. This was vital on the Royce institute, which will be located in the heart of Manchester.
The latest concrete technology is also spurring an increase in precast proprietary component suppliers, which are developing more innovative products. For example, the use of filligran shear links is solving design issues encountered with high loads and heavily serviced buildings, which has the added benefit of cost savings over the conventional approach of using punching shear links.
Precast concrete and other offsite methods present a real opportunity for the industry to transform how it designs, engineers and constructs.
If we are to take this sector forward, we need to realise the benefits that advanced concrete technologies – and others – can bring.
Gary Le Carpentier is a technical director and Simona Peet a project manager at Ramboll