The detailed design and structural resolution was undertaken as an interdisciplinary exercise in teamwork . Ove Arup & Partners led by the great engineer Peter Rice, who had been involved in the project from the beginning, developed the structural concept for the facades, with a system that hinged on six elegantly tapered cast steel rocker beams known as gerberettes.
The structure forms a permanent steel grid providing a stable framework, into which the moveable parts including walls and floors can be inserted, dismantled and re-positioned as necessary. The components and connections are of a scale rarely seen in the construction industry – massive steel elements were fabricated in off-site foundries and delivered by truck to the site during the night.
The superstructure consists of thirteen bays, six floors high, constructed of 16,000 tons of cast and prefabricated steel with reinforced concrete floor sections. The two main structural support planes comprise a series of 800mm (31.5 inch) diameter spun steel hollow columns, each of which supports six gerberettes, or brackets.
One end of each gerberette is connected to an outer tension column, while the other supports a steel lattice beam. The stability of the building is achieved through diagonal bracing in the long facades and by stabilised end frames.
The cladding is a curtain wall of steel and glass, mixing glazed and solid metal panels hung from the floor above to keep them structurally separate from the facades, and therefore easily changed. The line of the cladding is kept back from the edge of the building, allowing plenty of space for human interaction, while lending the building an open and transparent appearance.
The realisation of the project was a model for interdisciplinary teamwork and was undertaken via a series of independent teams – substructure, superstructure, services, facades, interiors, systems and the piazza - each under the guidance of a team leader, while overall coordination of the project was undertaken by Bernard Plattner.
Envisaged as a ‘communications machine’, the external envelope was designed to carry a skin of constantly changing information. The vertical elements of the expressed services on the east facade are aligned with the adjacent streets to ground the building in its context, while the industrial scaled elements are balanced with fine detailing to match the scale of the street and the proximity of pedestrians.
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