The UK has an impressive cultural heritage. As the first industrialised nation, we pioneered many industries, such as iron and textile manufacture, glass production, the invention of the steam engine and the construction of canals and railways. Our industrial revolution, which started in the mid-18th century, led to the transformation of small towns into major cities, with new factories and infrastructure. Many of these iconic industrial buildings still exist, and some are protected by English Heritage listings.
A number of these former industrial cities, such as Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham and Sheffield, are seeing extensive city centre redevelopment and often the challenge for specifiers with new and refurbished buildings is whether to – and how to – retain a link with the past.
Corten, the weathered steel panel, is one example of a rainscreen cladding material that is becoming widely specified due to its ability to achieve a visually pleasing structure that salutes a city’s industrial heritage. Corten steel creates a modern facade that is designed to naturally weather over time without affecting the quality and strength, allowing the material to develop a striking oxide copper finish. This means that the external facade of the building changes appearance quite dramatically in its first few months, before settling into an attractive ‘urban’ feel that blends in with its surroundings.
The natural patina, which also mellows gradually, creates a protective coating that is highly durable, low maintenance and aesthetically pleasing. If the patina becomes marked or damaged in any way, the exposed metal will rust and self-repair. This prevents any further corrosion, meaning that in normal weather conditions a Corten facade can last for more than a century.
The visual appearance of Corten is also what makes it stand out as its weather-beaten aesthetic bridges the gap between old and new. It is also well-suited to universities situated in industrial towns and cities that are looking for aesthetically pleasing buildings that still retain a link with the past.
Take, for example, Sheffield. Traditionally the home of steel production, and now its centre is undergoing extensive redevelopment. When developing a new teaching facility for Sheffield Hallam University, the architects wanted to reflect the industrial heritage of the area in the building. This led to the inspired selection of a Corten steel facade as the visual appeal of the material was able to reflect Sheffield’s industrial past in steel production.
The Charles Street building is part of the university’s overall aim to improve the student experience and enhance its reputation. It brings together the Faculty of Development and Society and primarily focuses on training teachers and housing the Sheffield Institute of Education.
The site sits between the main road and the Cultural Industries Quarter conservation area, a grid of historical lanes and listed buildings dating back to the 1700s. The design of the seven-storey building, which straddles Brown Lane, an alley that was at the heart of the Sheffield Steel industry, is sympathetic to the heritage of the nearby Butcher Works, a former cutlery and tool factory. It also takes into account the modern design of adjacent buildings and those situated opposite.
Over 1100m² of 2mm Corten steel rainscreen cladding cassettes and bespoke perforation screens were specified for the project, along with 200m² of soffits, which were installed to the main entrance area. As well as being responsible for the manufacture and installation of the Corten cassettes and screens, we also installed the soffit panels. In addition, we managed the development of a photovoltaic support frame through the rainscreen and the copings to the glass and brick facades.
To enhance the identity of the building and to sit in line with the university’s branding, the saw-toothed soffits and fascias were specified in Sheffield Hallam’s corporate colours, which also complement the copper finish of the Corten panels. The entrance and soffits were also set out and detailed to accommodate strip lighting that enhances the modern look of the building.
With many universities like Sheffield Hallam choosing to integrate old and new, we are entering an exciting new era in terms of the aesthetics of external facades. Therefore, we expect to continue to see architects specify new and more authentic materials, such as Corten, for use on developments that aim to complement the traditional aesthetics of surrounding buildings and reflect the industrial heritage of an area.