The V&A East expands the museum’s presence into East London and forms part of ‘East Bank’, which comprises the V&A, BBC Music, UAL College of Fashion and Sadler’s Wells, at the new Stratford Waterfront.
Inspired by the sleeves of a dress on a Vermeer painting in Dublin and also Spanish couturier, Balenciaga, Irish architects O'Donnell + Tuomey designed the facade to 'act as a 3-dimensional folding dress, lending the museum a distinctive form and striking identity.’
The unique nature of the V&A East for Techrete, as an architectural precast concrete specialist, is the complex geometry of the structure and façades. There were distinct challenges posed by the architectural intent, the obvious large, inclined faces of the façade and the more subtle patterned peaks and troughs which “wrap” around these faces.
The inclined nature of the façade with its many different angles, planes, and bespoke corners, presented a challenging task in terms of the coordination of the 3D design, the mould-making and site preparation. A 3D ‘digital twin’ was created by Techrete’s engineers to ensure clashes with other disciplines were minimized, and scheduling and sequencing was optimised. This model was later used on the shop floor to assist the factory in setting out the moulds and stage casts in the factory.
To achieve the complex shapes within the two metre height modules, a ‘kit of parts/stage casting’ approach in our panel production was implemented and individual panels were cast in stages, some of which were made up of three parts. This approach enabled Techrete to produce multi-faceted panels, since most sides are formed against the mould surface.
The subtle features included within the panels such as peaks, troughs, recesses and scores, presented an added complexity to Techrete’s mouldage, and the key to our success in this regard was threefold. Firstly, it was dependent upon the modellers creating an accurate representation of the building, secondly, from this digital information, bespoke moulds were produced by Techrete’s expert in-house joiners and thirdly, in the precision placement of the stage casts within the moulds, to achieve the very high level of accuracy required.
The concrete mix was a buff-coloured mix selected by the architects and clients. The surfaces of the panels subsequently received an acid etched treatment finish, ensuring the consistent appearance of the panel. Both the mix, panel geometry and surface features were trialled on a number of mock-up panels prior to commencement of production. This allowed firstly both the client and design team to review the design and secondly, the production and factory teams to review and refine the manufacturing and installation issues.
Some 474 panels, covering 5,878 square metres of the museum were fixed to the structure between September 2021 and April 2022, almost three years after work commenced on the façade. The inclined facades proved particularly challenging, with underslung panels having to be lifted through the structural steel frame requiring Techrete to ‘bend the law of gravity’ and very specific installation sequences were followed to achieve ‘top score’ in this large-scale game of Tetris.