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Firstsite Colchester.

The ‘golden crescent’ of Firstsite Colchester, designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects, might look effortless, but the arts centre posed major engineering challenges, from building on a Scheduled Ancient Monument to designing a façade double-curved on plan and in section.

Cresecent-shaped arts centre build directly over Roman archaeological remains

 

Location
Colchester, UK
Client
Colchester Borough Council
Architect
Rafael Viñoly Architects
Project Value
£28 million
Floor Area
3,800 m²
Status
completed 2011
Expertise
Structures

A key requirement was to avoid disturbing Roman archaeological remains located just 150 mm under the site. We studied various foundation options, risk assessing their archaeological impact.

A concrete raft was selected as the best option, designed for negligible settlement. The raft bears directly onto the ground, only requiring minimal excavations accompanied by up to a metre of fill. In certain zones reinforcement further reduces its depth, avoiding excavation while maintaining the required levels. These vary, creating gentle slopes to draw people through the building.

Above ground, our complex geometry team was involved in refining the single-storey structure, which features curved canted walls. A major challenge was delivering column-free, flexible space for exhibitions as well as a 190-seat auditorium, meeting rooms and teaching spaces.

We designed the superstructure as a series of portal frames, spaced at 13 m intervals along the 200 m-long building. Steel was selected for its buildability, particularly because each portal varies in size.

Because of the complex geometry, CAD-integrated structural analysis was undertaken. This allowed us to devise a system of curved horizontal tubes that span between the portals and carry the cladding.

Another challenge was designing the cantilevered canopy that projects from the end portal and forms a monumental entrance portico. The triangular projection is supported along one side by an inclined elevational truss. Meanwhile, the triangle’s leading edge is formed by a steel section, which supports further beams spanning back to the end portal.

This complex structure was analysed to ensure that deflections along the leading edge were strictly controlled, maintaining a crisp, linear appearance.

Awards.
Arding
&
Hobbs.
 
Grosvenor
Square.
 
 
Horizon
 
Building.
 
Canada
Water
Plot K1.
 
Cadogan
Place.
 
 
CASPAR
I.
 
 
Kivik
Pavilion.
 
 
One
Centaur
Street.
 
Nike
myThread
Pavilion
 
Museum
of the
History of
Science.
2-12
Symons
Street
 
Southwark
Gateway.
 
 
Brindleyplace
Café
 
 
Queen
Mary
Students'
Union.
30
Kensington
Church
Street
Brulington
Danes
Imaging
Centre
Bedford
Music
School
 
Royal
Holloway
Student
Residences.
Howe
Dell
Primary
School.
39-49
Wigmore
Street
 
1
Finsbury
Square
 
London
Bridge
Glass
Sculpture.
Hilton
London
Tower
Bridge.
Bishop Challoner
Catholic Collegiate
School.
 
Butterfield
Innovation
Centre.
 
Hanover
Street
Artwork.
 
Derby
Quad.
 
 
Queens
Apartments.
 
 
AA
Rainforest
Pavilion.
 
Qasr
Al
Muwaiji