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Acid-etched precast at the Newcastle Biosphere

Almost 400 tonnes of acid-etched precast units were supplied by Techrete for a landmark new building in Newcastle's science quarter.

The Newcastle Biosphere is a new £20m, 77,000 sq ft laboratory facility, designed by Ryder Architecture and constructed by Kier for Newcastle City Council. The building is part of Newcastle Science Central,  
a new urban quarter in the centre of the city, in close proximity to  the Universities of Northumbria and Newcastle.

The building comprises two wings served by a central core, over seven floors, with uses split between office and laboratory. A lower ground floor accommodates the entrance and delivery area, the level above includes the office functions, while the next four storeys are designated for laboratory space with a seventh floor dedicated to services plant and tenant amenities.

Techrete was appointed by Kier to manufacture and install almost  400 architectural and structural precast units for the scheme.  The precast firm was able to achieve productivity gains from the building’s design and through its own use of digital technology. “Steel moulds were used instead of Techrete’s usual timber moulds due to the high repetition of the window units,” explains Techrete’s regional contracts manager Archie Fotheringham. “BIM was used to develop the precast concrete façade model, the benefits of which were realised in reducing both manufacturing and construction times. Techrete is increasingly adopting BIM for the creation of ‘digital twins’ for the facades on projects.”

The biggest sections were the structural mullions and columns, weighing in at over nine tonnes, though Fotheringham says the most complex panels to produce were the punched window panels. “These were sloped and designed in a wedge shape,” he explains. “Particular attention needed to be paid to the finishing of these panels to ensure the consistency of each panel was achieved.” The panels used Techrete’s C190 mix with an acid-etched finish, giving what Fotherinham describes as “a warm, off-white colour", providing a uniform appearance throughout the building”.

On the seventh storey of the building, Techrete’s roof mullions and spandrels, with the steel frame of the roof, serve to mechanical and electrical plant.
A combination of tower and mobile cranes were used for the installation. “Due to building work ongoing on an adjacent site, access to two ends of the building was limited and a mobile crane situated in the courtyard area was necessary to reach these areas,” says Fotheringham. 

Techrete completed the installation works within the scheduled 12-week programme.

  • 193 mullions/spandrels, area 3.25 sq m, weight 1 tonne
  • 66 wall panels, area 16.4 sq m, weight 5.4 tonnes
  • 56 punch window panels, area 23.41 sq m, weight 7.4 tonnes
  • 44 structural mullions and columns, area 25.55 sq m, weight 9.26 tonnes
  • 40 spandrel and roof parapet units (first floor), area 2.86 sq m, weight 0.85 tonne