Soundhouse Sheffield University

The Soundhouse is a state-of-the-art music practice and studio facility and its stretchy black rubber outer skin was intended as a literal translation of the need to acoustically contain the building. It’s based on another building with a pin cushion design in the Netherlands – Popcentrum 013 in Tilburg, by Benthem Crouwel Architekten

We were very fortunate that the planners at Sheffield embraced the rubber cladding idea because the cutting-edge quilted building sits within a conservation area and next to a grade-II listed hospital that is being regenerated. It’s a great contrast. The Resistit Perfekt EPDM reinforced rubber, supplied by Germany’s Phoenix Dichtungstechnik, has never been used before in the UK. It’s inherently a waterproofing medium for roofs, but is perfect for cladding a building because it offers weather tightness as a full rainscreen enclosure.

The rubber is also very flexible, which meant there was also no need to design in the usual expansion and movement joints because the skin can cope with any temperature variation or building movement. And it’s virtually maintenance free – to clean it you just hose it down.

From the outset we were keen to transfer this roofing material into a cladding application we believed it would work in. It was a risk and the detailing had to be very robust because the EPDM was very thick and therefore heavy.

The specification for how the rubber was bonded in situ was very problematic and during installation we had problems with the solvent-welded joints debonding from the fabric. It meant manufacturing much larger panels at the factory, each one the size of an entire facade, so that the only welding required on site was at the corners.

Despite these problems, contractor Kier did a great job and we’ve had positive feedback on the finished building. Another architect has shown interest in specifying the same product.

PV panels combine with cladding

If conventional photovoltaics are too costly, why not combine them with your cladding? Voltarlux solar energy modules from Germany’s Arnold Glas are transparent elements that can be used in windows, cladding panels and double glazing, and deliver up to 60kWh/m² a year via a solar power unit. The amorphous silicon thin film technology inside the glass uses just 1g of silicon per m2, so compared with other methods of PV manufacture its embodied energy is lower. Costs are also comparable with more conventional cladding with a complete curtain walling system costing about £1,000/m2.

Panels need no wet trades

A traditional finish and fast installation combine in the Thermabrick system from Kingspan, which can be installed without wet trades or masonry skills, taking the facade off the critical path. The composite panel incorporates Acheson & Glover’s mortarless brick system, Novabrik, which is available in several colours and can be installed up to 6.5m high. The system can also be integrated with other Kingspan products including Thermastone, Thermatile and WoodTherm.

Curtain walling tips of the trade from schÜco

1. Consider prefabricated unitised systems. These have become more viable and off-the-self systems are suitable for short installation programmes or restricted sites that can’t easily accommodate external access equipment such as scaffolding.

2. Consider spanning the mullion over two floors where possible. This can reduce the required strength and therefore the box size of the profile, reducing costs.

3. Think about glass replacement and cleaning. Concealing aluminium profiles behind brickwork or stone features might look crisp, but it can cause a headache later if the glass unit has to be replaced.

4. Choose a high-insulation system. This may mean you don’t require argon in the glazed units to reach a specified U-value. Argon will diminish over the life of the installation, but high insulation thermal break components will remain in place.

5. Ensure perimeter interfacing details are robust, are in line with system suppliers’ recommendations and use system components. Allow enough working space for the installer to create an air and vapour barrier between the curtain wall and the adjoining structure.