SPU library wins award

2017-07-05 06:00
The Sol Plaatje University Library Building was announced as the winner of the 2017 Fulton Concrete Award in the category for buildings higher than three storeys. Photo: Supplied

The Sol Plaatje University Library Building was announced as the winner of the 2017 Fulton Concrete Award in the category for buildings higher than three storeys. Photo: Supplied

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The origami-like roof of the Sol Plaatje University Library and Student Resources Building in Kimberley is lauded for how it blends with the surrounding buildings.

The engineering prowess involved in bringing this project to life pushed the boundaries of architectural and engineering design, requiring the concrete used to perform not only as a structural, but also as an aesthetic material.

The Sol Plaatje University Library Building was announced as the winner of the 2017 Fulton Concrete Award in the category for buildings higher than three storeys.

The project is already reported to have received a commendation in the category Architectural Concrete at the prestigious biennial event, which recognises excellence and innovation in the use of concrete.

One of the key structural elements of the project is the library’s floating facade. The integrated external skin of the building blends the walls with an origami-like roof which is functionally, structurally and technically independent from its inner building core.

The library is draped in a continuous concrete shell which takes on an angular, diamond-like shape. Each roof corner of the building is at a different level which corresponds with the neighbouring building tying the overall precinct together as the focal point of the central campus.

The diamond shape of the building evokes the diamond mining history of the city.

According to the Fulton Award judges’ citation, this bold and original project pushes the boundaries of architectural and engineering design, which required very high expectations from the concrete to perform not only as a structural, but also as an aesthetic material.

“The Sol Plaatje University Library Building was up against notable other award entries,” reads a statement from Aurecon.

Aurecon provided structural, civil, electrical, fire and wet services design for the project, which started in May 2014 and is expected to be completed in December 2017.

According to Aurecon structural engineer and technical director, Heinrich Stander, winning this award, especially considering all of the impressive nominees on the list, is a testament to what can be achieved when visionaries and problem solvers are aligned within a single project team.

“I would like to thank our client, the Sol Plaatje University, for giving the architect the brief of designing something amazing; Murray & Dickson Construction for submitting the project for an award; as well as the entire project team who helped us bring this vision to life,” said Stander.

“The floating facade walls are a unique feat of this project. The slenderness, finish of the material, eccentric steel supports and the precision that the number of cast-in elements needed, required considerable research and out-of-the-box thinking from our team.”

He said one of the major challenges with the floating concrete facade was the precision needed in execution.

The contractor was brought on board during the design process, which allowed various design options to be assessed and improved from a constructability perspective.

“The stakes were high for everyone and the project team had to ensure that the eventual approach followed would work on the first attempt.

“Repair of any mistake would have damaged the off-shutter concrete aesthetics, especially when the goal was to deliver a façade that had a highly refined, consistently silky, off-steel surface finish,” says Stander.

The in-situ monolithic wall that the team designed was reportedly an ideal fit for the architectural intent and structural design.

“One of the concerns with this option was the shrinkage related movement of the concrete facade, which could have led to undesirable cracking if poorly approached. To reduce this effect from a design perspective, we specified low shrinkage strain performance concrete with stringent curing practices and incorporated 90-day delayed zones in strategic positions over the height of the facade walls and sloping roofs,” explained Stander.

A large sample wall and sloping roof section were constructed to test and ensure that the geometry, design, proposed construction joint preparation and material placement techniques would work.

After constructing the sample wall successfully, it was broken down to investigate the compaction of the material around the complex steel column shear connectors and reinforcement detailing throughout. The rigorous testing and success achieved with the sample wall established confidence in the various approaches.

“We knew that do-overs would not be possible once we started constructing the facade, so we had to make sure that the technical solutions we were proposing would work on the constructed building with little room for failure. The results are exactly what we set out to achieve and I am very pleased with the final facade.”

“This landmark library and student resources building provides a highly visible and sculptural presence to the central campus precinct, linking it to the surrounding Kimberley inner city regeneration project,” Stander concluded.

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