• ETFE cushion roof over conference centre
  • ETFE roof with ventilation actuator
  • ETFE cushion at night

As part of the Phase 2 construction at ExCel Conference Centre, Architen Landrell was contracted to design, manufacture and install three ETFE cushion roof lights, each covering an area of 25m x 25m (615sqm each) – some of the largest ETFE cushions in the world!

A skylight with integrated venting was the design brief at ExCel Phase 2, so when Grimshaw Architects and contractors Sir Robert McAlpine approached Architen Landrell, they had already considered a wide range of options. When asked about the scheme, Grimshaw Architects describe it as intending to look ephemeral and unfinished, commenting that there is an emphasis on internal special relationships and a more playful approach.

In contrast to glass or even traditional tensile fabric structures, ETFE cushions offered an exciting opportunity to integrate an aesthetically different element and create an ultimately modern and clean looking space. The rooflights allow a light and open feeling to be created in the exhibition space below, let in maximum natural light and serve as a surface for internal uplighting.

In addition, Grimshaw Architects had used ETFE in the past and therefore understood the intrinsic benefits of the material, including its lightweight, high translucency, and flexibility as a material.

As the largest individual ETFE cushions installed in the world, the size of the cushions in itself posed a challenge for manufacture and installation. Nearly 2000sqm of material was patterned, cut and welded in our factory before being transported to site for installation.

Extensive research and development was also carried out to design and build state-of-the-art air venting actuators concealed in the structure headring. The actuators are self-monitoring i.e. they constantly adapt their position and speed of movement to maintain a level headring and avoid twisting.

In the event of a fire the conic shape of the ETFE cushions helps to create a chimney effect and draw smoke up and away from the exhibition floor. Even without a power supply, the actuators will open and ventilate the fumes.

However, the real complexity of the rooflights at ExCel lay in the design development stage. Not just ETFE cushions, the rooflights are formed as a hybrid between a traditional tensile cone formed by the inside layer of the cushion and a pneumatically supported membrane formed by the upper layer.

This combination of shapes made the cushions particularly difficult to analyse, pattern and build. We worked closely with structural engineers Momentum and fabric engineers Tensys to achieve a system which was both structurally capable of taking the required loads and aesthetically pleasing.

The scheme as a whole has been widely acclaimed by those involved and the wider industry media. Architects Journal describes it as engaging with the limitations of the commercial exhibition centre as a building type.

We are intensely proud of our involvement in this project and our achievement of pushing the boundaries of ETFE cushions.

Images courtesy of Edmund Sumner (c)

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Architen Landrell, Station Road, Chepstow, NP16 5PF, UK


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