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Basalt mix achievaes black architectural cladding on Fish Island, London

Clever use of 3D modelling and a special basalt mix were key to Cornish Concrete Products’ cladding design on a new development next to the Olympic Park.

Project Lanterna is a new mixed-use building overlooking the Olympic Park in east London, where black precast cladding arranged in a herringbone pattern has been designed to evoke the area’s industrial past. Cornish Concrete Products (CCP) supplied the precast units, working with Lyndon Goode Architects, house builder Hill Group and client the Peabody Trust. The six-storey block at Fish Island in Hackney Wick has a reinforced concrete frame structure and comprises 16 apartments, with ground floor restaurant and workspace.

Architect Simon Goode specified the “textured black concrete to bring a sense of drama to the building which acts as a backdrop to a new public square”. He adds: “The colour also references the industrial heritage of this area of east London – a centre of tar processing in the 19th century.” The concrete’s colour was achieved using fine and course black basalt aggregate and a black powder dye in the mix. 

Precast was key to the design from the outset, with planners noting its benefits of quality, robustness and reduction in site trades. “We designed the facade as a series of standardised components, just small enough to be made offsite at CCP’s workshop in Cornwall and craned into position on site,” explains Goode.

CCP manufactured 292 units in total for Neptune Wharf, the largest of which were the window bays. The eight ground floor units measured 3394mm high by 3075mm across, weighing in at 2.61t, the heaviest on the project. The bays on the upper levels were 3025mm high and weighed 2.5t.

The other units comprised: 20 balcony and ground floor reveals; 16 parapets; 68 spandrel panels, and 148 columns. “The columns, which sit between the bays and at the corners of each elevation, work structurally,” explains CCP preconstruction director David Moses. “They are stacked on top of each other, with the load transferred down to the foundations. The spandrel panels between the columns are connected using dowels, transferring the load, and restrained back to the slab using stainless steel fixing brackets.”

The biggest technical challenge was creating Lyndon Goode’s herringbone pattern across the panels. “We wanted to imprint the facade with herringbone grooves wrapping in and out of the reveals and around all elevations” explains Goode. “This meant ensuring the intricate pattern was aligned across panels, particularly in light of tolerances in concrete construction. To achieve this, the entire cladding structure, including every groove, was modelled in 3D software. CCP referred to this 3D model to hand-build timber moulds for each component. “The Tekla 3D modelling ensured that all junctions and patterns lined up on different planes and angles throughout the entire building, ensuring consistency of finish across the whole facade.”

Chevron pattern vertical joints between column cladding units,  devised by CCP, ensured that the architect’s design intent was not lost in  the panelisation. Goode also wanted a “rough, textured finish” to the faces of the precast panels, with a contrasting smooth finish inside the groove. To achieve this, CCP hand-painted retardant onto the flat planes of the mould, missing out the triangular extrusions that form the grooves. The panels also have insulation bonded to the inside face, further cutting down on site trades.

CCP installed the cladding package in 10 weeks, the panels arriving on site by lorry where they were lifted into position by tower crane, working from the ground level upwards. Glazing was installed on site. “The installation team worked from the inside of the building and restrained the panels back to the structure,” explains Moses. “Permanent water tightness was achieved using primary and secondary silicone sealant joints applied from the outside using a MEWP,” he adds.

Fish Island Village’s entire ground-level space will be let to a single organisation, The Trampery, enabling the cross-subsidising and promotion of different uses, including artists’ studios, affordable workspaces, performance space, restaurant, cafés and shops.