Hopkins’ horseshoe-shaped knowledge and media centre – otherwise known as the Forum in Norwich – is a resounding success that overcame an irregular-shaped site and an imposing neighbour …

A learning curve
A learning curve

A fitting landmark for the millennium in the heart of Norwich” was what the brief demanded. Hopkins Architects has achieved this with a dynamic building that has become very popular with the locals in a short space of time.

Completed in October 2001, the Forum is designed to be a centre of knowledge, information and learning for the whole region. The £63.5m horseshoe-shaped development has various tenants that include BBC TV and radio studios, offices, county library, visitor centre, cafe and restaurant. The sense of being in a great building that buzzes with activity is an inescapable part of the experience and is enhanced by the transparency of the light-filled atrium.

The library takes up the entire three storeys of the semi-circular end of the horseshoe, and directly opposite, a spectacular three-storey glazed wall spans across the open end. The resulting atrium forms a lively, covered civic space that allows the public to meet, linger and use the facilities.

The forum’s striking design is a reaction to its location. The building’s horseshoe shape is a response to the site’s irregular geometry. And the brickwork of the adjacent City Hall is echoed in the architect’s use of a brick that is longer than usual (234 x 65 x 112 mm).

Rather than relegated to a mere cladding, the brickwork is employed as a solid, “brick ’n a half” (356 mm) loadbearing wall that envelops the building. English bonded brickwork using “soft” bricks laid in a lime mortar have all but obviated the need for movement joints.

On the external face of the brickwork, 350 mm square concrete nodes denote where internal floor slabs bear onto the brickwork. These are really nibs projecting from the slab that reduce the cold bridging that would occur if the slab bearing was continuous. They are paired where floor loads are greater, such as at the library book stacks. A neat touch.

When it comes to forming lintels, the ubiquitous soldier courses are out. “They are illogical and misleading,” says Hopkins’ project director Mike Taylor. “Traditional flat arches such as those at Glyndebourne proved too costly here so we just continued the brickwork as stretcher courses over openings. Support comes from prefabricated steel goalpost frames that form part of the window assembly and are bolted to the brickwork”. And to increase variety, burnt headers have been scattered throughout the brickwork, “like currants in a cake,” muses Taylor.

The few specials on the project are primarily radial stretchers used to form the tight radiused ends of the horseshoe’s arms. The resulting towers are used as chimneys to ventilate the underground car park and give the building a faintly Odeon-style Art Deco look. But they also play their role in helping the building achieve landmark status. No wonder, then, that it won Best Structural Use of Brick in the 2004 Brick Awards.

For further details call the BDA on 01344-885651

Client The Forum Trust
Architect Hopkins Architects
Structural engineer whitbybird
QS Turner & Townsend
M&E Oscar Faber Group
Brickwork  RG Carter
Acoustics  Adrian James Associates
Visitor Centre Design  Event Communications