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At the heart of the University of Warwick’s main Gibbet Hill campus just south of Coventry, the Warwick Arts Centre has played an integral role in the cultural life of the university and the West Midlands region for more than five decades.
First opening its doors in 1974, this much-loved and highly-respected centre has undergone multiple phases of development, refurbishment and redevelopment in its time, steadily increasing the range of cultural facilities it provided. These facilities included a theatre, theatre studio, conference room and music centre, The Butterworth Concert Hall, The Mead Art Gallery, a cinema and bookshop, all built around a central atrium. In the face of an increasingly competitive environment and a rapidly changing arts funding climate, the centre temporarily closed its doors in 2017 to begin a radical four-year long £25.5 million transformation that would bring it the facilities it needed for the long-term future.
Supported by an award of £4.2 million in Art Council England funding, the project was designed by Ellis William Architects, with Bond Bryan as delivery Architect. Project Manager and Main Contractor were respectively Turner & Townsend and Willmott Dixon Construction, with Sage Building Envelope Contractors handling roofing and cladding.
The much-expanded Arts Centre would need to be capable of supporting the complete range of different digital media, provide a far more accessible art gallery and offer all of the customer facilities expected of a modern cutting-edge cultural hub. Specifically, the main requirements of the expansion project brief comprised:
• A new Mead Art Gallery. Following the gallery’s existing L-shaped layout, but moved from the first floor to the ground floor, while still maintaining good natural daylighting.
• Digital auditoria. Three new cinemas with capacities of 60, 180 and 250 seats, able to present films, video link shows and communications and video artworks.
• Enlarged foyer, retail and restaurant areas, to accommodate much increased visitor numbers.
• Enhanced entrance and public façade.
• Refurbishment of the oldest parts of the centre, bringing the theatre, theatre studio, conference room and music centre up to modern day standards.
Importantly, all new building elements would need to be visually integrated into the existing Arts Centre structures. Most notably this included the large, multi-level Butterworth Concert Hall built in 1981. The aesthetic appeal of the expanded arts centre also needed to be as vibrant and strong at night as it is during the day.
The architectural approach taken for the project aimed then to strategically and organically grow the existing centre, rather than completely rebuild it. The existing Mead Gallery, cinema, bookshop and atrium would be demolished, creating space for the new gallery, three digital auditoria and much larger foyer and circulation zones.
With the relocation of the L-shaped gallery to the ground floor came the introduction of three large rooflighting lanterns in order to maximise natural light transmission. In order to minimise the extension footprint, the three auditoria were located on the first and second floor levels above the main circulation zone, supported by a shared foyer and bar space.
The main roof level is used to house the majority of the mechanical plant serving the new Art Centre buildings. Above this level rise the three large auditoria roofs, a series of rising inclined planes reflecting the rake of the seating within, along with the three gallery lanterns, at similar angles and increasing in height towards the front entrance of the centre.
At ground, first and second floor levels the complex form of the new extension is clad in subtly-perforated aluminium rainscreen panels, creating a soft golden curvature that wraps the large volumes inside. In the same smooth polyester powder coated finish, full-height colonnades surround the expansive glazed frontage of the double-height main entrance and foyer areas.
Robert Freeman, Director of Lead Architect Ellis Williams said, “Using Danpalon® polycarbonate cladding to enclose the cinemas and art gallery lanterns aimed to echo the forms and tone of the original Arts Centre, whereby the individual facilities are read as individual forms and the new elements are expressed as rising from within the overall container of the aluminium cladding ‘wrap’ or ‘skin’.”
“The qualities of the polycarbonate mean that the new sculptural elements are not read as completely solid but have an ethereal, partly translucent, quality in the daytime and are illuminated with coloured lighting and graphics at night, suggesting the activity within and providing a new and exciting presence to the Arts Centre that is clearly visible from the road passing the University campus.”
Jon Rigby, Associate Director of the project’s delivery Architects Bond Bryan said, “A key feature of the original design concept was a striking bronze and glass plinth and colonnade – offering an engaging, dynamic frontage to the public areas and a more solid wrap to the gallery and back-of-house areas. Onto this plinth were then seated an array of six sculptural lightboxes - three for the gallery lanterns, three for the auditoria.”
“To achieve in each of these six large volumes a real brightness and deftness during the day, and in contrast quite a bold illumination at night, we chose to use the 16mm thick, 600mm-wide Danpalon® BRV translucent polycarbonate rainscreen panels from Everlite Concept.”
“Working with Everlite to fine-tune the system design, we specified that the panels be opal in colour in order to harmonise with the existing Butterworth Concert Hall alongside, and that the front face of all panels be illuminated at night using low level colour-changing LED lighting strips.”
Responsible for the Danpalon® system design and installation to all public-facing roof elevations was local firm Sage Building Envelop Contractors of Coventry. Their Contracts Manager Andy Cauvain said:
“A major challenge of the Arts Centre project was the tightness of the construction site. Being on a busy working campus meant space was at a premium. The lightweight, portable nature of Danpalon® though meant that we could cut all the required angles on site without the need for a dedicated cutting station and then easily distribute it around the site by hand.”
“It was actually the first time we’d used the Danpalon® system and we found it very straight forward and easy to use. The structural backing for the system was provided by primary steel-mounted Eurobond Rainspan wall panels, with the Danpalon® panels attached to it using quick-fix connectors and helping-hand brackets – installation was really smooth.”
Interconnecting two of the auditoria volumes at the front of the Arts Centre roof was a HVAC plant screen, once more constructed using the opal-coloured Danpalon® panels mounted on a metal frame. To achieve a perfectly consistent look-and-feel for the roofscape, all vertical and horizontal corners employed the same powder coated aluminium flashings throughout.
The four-year long redevelopment has created a vibrant, modern and accessible arts centre that successfully integrates new areas with pre-existing buildings. Bringing a new and exciting relevance to the arts centre, this radical transformation enables it to fully exploit the potential of digital media long into the future.
Jon Rigby said, “The Danpalon® roof façade in particular has played an important role in achieving the desired aesthetic for the new arts centre. Not only does it bring a harmony and elegance to the six prominent roof volumes, it also softens them, achieving a muted look and feel that complements the sleek golden plinth below and blends seamlessly with the Butterworth Hall alongside and the surrounding campus buildings beyond.”
“The depth and multi-layered quality to the Danpalon® polycarbonate appears to pick up on the tone of its surroundings and weather conditions. And there’s a life to it that seems to change its tonal quality throughout the day.”
“At night, the same panels seem to both refract and reflect the projected coloured lighting in equal measure, creating stunning lightboxes that bring a real vibrancy and wow-factor to the roofscape. They help turn the arts centre into an eye-catching beacon at the heart of the university campus.”
The new Warwick Arts Centre was re-opened to much acclaim in October 2021, in time to participate in Coventry’s City of Culture 2021 celebrations. This radical, forward-thinking redevelopment project has re-affirmed the Warwick Arts Centre as the region’s leading cultural centre, a home for cutting edge art and entertainment experiences.
Sage Building Envelope Contractors
Danpalon® 16 BRV, trame de 600 mm, opale
Danpalon® 16, trame de 600 mm, opale