May 22, 2018 Last Updated 9:47 AM, May 17, 2018

Shackerley helps students study in style

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Brian Newell, Founder and Chief Executive of ventilated cladding specialist, Shackerley, discusses the practical and aesthetic considerations for the ceramic granite cladding system used at the University of Birmingham’s new £44m library as part of the university’s £500m campus development plan.


Like many UK universities, the University of Birmingham has big ambitions for its estates, with plans to upgrade and update accommodation in line with contemporary teaching methods, student demographics and courses.

The university is planning a c.£500m investment in its Edgbaston Campus over the course of a five-year development plan. The wide-ranging programme is the University of Birmingham’s biggest estate transformation initiative since the first phase of its Edgbaston Campus was completed more than a century ago. The Aston Webb Building forms the centrepiece of the campus with its great curving facade framing the landscaped Chancellor’s Court that’s home to the iconic clock tower, affectionately dubbed ‘Old Joe’ after the university’s first chancellor Joseph Chamberlin.

On the other side of this landscaped thoroughfare, the university’s library had a commanding presence. Now, however, a new library has been constructed adjacent to its former incarnation. The £44m library is a landmark scheme that will be the centrepiece of a new ‘Green Heart’ landscaped parkland. Constructed to accommodate 62km of books and the university’s rare collections, the new University of Birmingham Library has also been designed as an iconic, stylish building that reflects both the forward-focused culture of the university and its rich architectural heritage.

Specification of the building’s eye-catching facade has been pivotal to achieving those aims, with SureClad ceramic granite ventilated cladding from Shackerley providing depth of colour and texture to contrast with heavily glazed areas and anodised aluminium fins.

Visual impact

According to the project’s design team at Associated Architects, the design concept for the new library was to create a building that was ‘of its time’, ‘confident’ and ‘expressive’. Their response was to design a library that both references the geometric lines of its predecessor and creates a contemporary structure. The natural texture and patina of ceramic granite will complement the landscaped surroundings of the Green Heart parkland, while the glazing will reflect back the trees and skyscapes and maximise views from within the building.

The anodised aluminium fins that sit at right angles to the facades provide a space age detail that plays with the light and adds to the vertical linear patterns created by the mix of materials. Used for the stair core areas and the rear of the tower, the ceramic granite differentiates these sections of the building from the curtain walling that wraps around the remainder of the facade. It also helps to break up the facade, while providing a solid contrast to the lighter areas.

To achieve this eye-catching effect, the architects specified four different finishes of SureClad ceramic granite, including black panels in both highly polished and natural (unpolished) finishes, unpolished grey panels and unpolished panels with a marbled/variegated black and grey finish. The combination of these finishes creates dark areas on the facade while providing tonal variation that adds interest and alters impressions of the building as you approach the edifice.

Ceramic granite upholds the high calibre specification of the library and use of the SureClad Access ventilated facade system also enabled the architect to optimise use of this high-end material. Although the panels are large format, 1198 x 598mm, they are much thinner and lighter in weight than traditional cladding materials such as quarried stone, minimising loadings on the substructure and the building. Associated Architects was able to arrange the panels to achieve a best fit configuration, setting out the ceramic granite in alignment with the windows and floor to floor heights to maximise impact while minimising waste.


The contribution of Shackerley’s SureClad ceramic granite cladding system is not only aesthetic, it also offers high levels of performance in terms of breathable protection for the building fabric. It has been instrumental in developing the sustainability credentials of the building, its service life expectancy and low-maintenance durability.

Ceramic granite contributed to the building’s BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rated credit for materials, and its use as part of a ventilated cladding system also contributed to the EPC A rating that was achieved from the Part L model in a building designed to achieve a 50% reduction in energy consumption as compared to its predecessor. The SureClad system was fixed onto the concrete cores that surround the escape stairs and the facade was set 350mm off the face of the building to provide a substantial cavity within which the building could be super-insulated. The interface of the SureClad primary support brackets with the concrete structure were thermally broken to prevent cold bridging, further supporting the cladding system’s contribution to the building’s thermal performance.

The SureClad system’s ventilation performance will also help to support building performance and service life. The system allows continuous airflow between the outer facade and the internal envelope, enabling the building to breathe, thereby preventing moisture build-up and the risk of interstitial condensation.

An ideal cladding material, ceramic granite is fully vitrified, with virtually zero porosity, which means that facade panels are unaffected by climatic extremes and conform to all international standards for freeze/thaw resistance. They will not support algae growth and are resistant to acids, alkalis and airborne pollution so will not stain or discolour over time. Nor will they fade or degrade in UV light, no matter how intense. These factors all combine to provide a durable, long-lasting, low-maintenance solution that will retain its good looks for decades.

Each panel was supplied fully-prefabricated from Shackerley’s ISO 9001 quality controlled factory, with the SureClad ‘Access System’ fixings securely anchored to the rear of each panel ready for installation on site. The innovative patented design of the facade system allows individual panels to be removed and replaced without disturbing the remainder of the facade for maintenance purposes if this should be required in the future.

Traditional and contemporary

The University of Birmingham’s estate development programme will expand and update the Edgbaston Campus creating an environment that combines new buildings with academic heritage to meet changing student and research requirements. The use of Shackerley’s ceramic granite mirrors this combination of the traditional and the contemporary, delivering the classic aesthetics of quarried stone with modern styling and 21st century built environment functionality.
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