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Furness academy uses cross laminated timber to outstanding effect

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Furness Academy has been hailed a ground-breaking project as one of the largest educational facilities to be developed in the UK, using cross laminated timber as the core structural component. Here, X-LAM Alliance demonstrates the successful collaboration of specialist organisations working together at all levels to ensure the safe delivery of an outstanding project - on time and within budget.


Cumbria County Council had an urgent requirement for a new Academy, the initial concept was for a split facility – the final proposal was for one outstanding centre of learning, with the target of accommodating 1200 pupils by the academic year 2013/14.

The new facility provides a first class learning environment delivering an unparalleled education for pupils, with additional accommodation allowing the school to meet its current and future challenges. Furness Academy aspired to be more than just a place of learning – at a social level it has been established as a hub for the local community and a beacon of change for the area. A number of site constraints and considerations had to be addressed within the final design and delivery of the project. The choice of main contractor, architect, engineers and subcontractors were crucial to offer continual collaboration in order to achieve a successful outcome within a tight timeframe.

A holistic approach of positioning the user at the heart of the design process shaped the architecture around both the functional and social aspects of this project. Architects are acutely aware of the value of good design, not only for the ability to ‘lift the spirits’ but also for the added value it brings to the community, believing that good architecture is fundamental in attracting students and staff to the school and that education is ultimately about economic and social regeneration. In essence, the quality of the environment delivered through architecture can bring about lasting positive cultural change.

Utilising space

The driver for the main building form was to minimise its impact on the site and the internal uses dictated how the building was massed. A simple pavilion style was conceived where internal uses could be stacked to best utilise space and be integrated by creating informal links. These rooms surround an internal courtyard space, offering a combined shelter and play area. The design also maximises the use of natural daylight and ventilation to further enhance the internal environment.

The scheme was designed to comply with current legislation, using the most advanced construction techniques and materials ensuring energy efficiency throughout the build and beyond. Great consideration was given to the building fabric, thermal and solar performance to create a sustainable, energy efficient building with as much natural lighting as possible and with the provision of excellent system controls and monitoring capabilities.

The strategy and concept design of the Academy’s topography was to capture the experience and enhance the journey for each pupil, through learning in the landscape. The physical characteristics of the school grounds have been used to create ‘experiences’ which benefit all site users.

The structural requirement was to maximise the flexibility of the learning environment by providing a 7m clear span between external and internal CLT walls. This improves the general building arrangement, consisting of two advanced teaching spaces either side of an internal corridor.

Working closely with the manufacturer and specialist contractor team from the X-LAM Alliance, a 20m super XL panel was selected to span the full width of the block. This permitted a structurally and thermally efficient continuous slab, offering an added benefit of speed of erection.

The project is one of the largest cross laminated timber schools in the UK, featuring a hybrid structure to produce an efficient optimised design, using a combination of CLT and structural steelwork to create spaces that respond to the architectural design drivers.

A cascading, visually exposed CLT staircase forms a central hub to the Academy. Careful structural design was required in order to maximise the visual impact and showcase the aesthetic appeal and natural warmth of the exposed engineered timber. CLT is also used to great practical and visual effect in the main sports hall. The fully enclosed CLT box with long span glulam roof beams, offers good sound insulation and a robust surface – ideal for a sports hall.

The selection of CLT as the principal material has enabled the main contractor to reduce programme time for the frame construction, as well as accelerating follow-on packages by integrating architectural and building services opening requirements into the fabrication process.

Site conditions proved far from ideal and the team experienced heavy rain, wind and snow throughout the 22 week construction period. This presented particular challenges for panel unloading, erection and associated plant movements.

Kept under observation

The health and safety considerations around moving panels of this size on site with large plant were considerable and required careful scheduling. Consequently additional planning was required to schedule deliveries of materials to coincide with panel lifts as part of the erection sequence. These operations added to the total crane time on site and required stringent monitoring.

In total an astounding 1988 white wood spruce cross laminated timber panels and 184 tonnes of steel were delivered, over the course of the 22 weeks, in 57 loads.

The Furness Academy has achieved outstanding environmental performance for the structural frame with sequestered carbon values of 1395 tonnes of CO2e.

Following completion of the project, acoustic testing (carried out by BDP) and air permeability testing (carried out by HRS Services) took place. The Academy is ventilated via both mechanical and natural methods depending on room location and type. Indoor ambient noise level measurements were taken in line with the Association of Noise Consultants (ANC) Guidelines, Noise from Building Services for mechanical and mixed mode ventilated areas.

For naturally ventilated rooms, measurements were undertaken in line with the ANC Good Practice Guide for Acoustic Testing of Schools where three measurements of five minute periods were taken at three locations within each room.

The acoustic testing demonstrated ‘good passes’ for airborne sound to partitions and floor and a ‘good pass’ on impact sound to floors.

The envelope air tightness test was carried out in line with the following standards:

  • ATTMA TSL2 Oct 2010 Issue – Measuring Air Permeability of Building Envelopes (Non Dwellings)
  • BS EN 13829:2001 Thermal performance of buildings – Determination of Air Permeability of Building = Fan pressurisation method
  • The building was pressurised using the HRS Services ‘MIDIFAN’ System. The MIDIFAN System was set up in the front entrance door. Pressure differences across the MIDIFAN and the building were measured with air temperature probes located central and external to the building. Wind speeds at the start and end of the test along with barometric pressure were also measured.
  • The Air Permeability tests revealed excellent pass results of 1.79m3/(h.m2) for the Sports Hall and a further ‘good pass’ result for the general building achieving a value of 3.22m3/(h.m2) – compared to the original design specification, where both were required to meet maximum 7.5m3/(h.m2).
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