Knauf and Associated Architects collaborate on learning in style

Working in collaboration with Knauf – the UK's leading manufacturers of lightweight building materials and systems – Associated Architects were able to refurbish a wood-panelled university lecture theatre to a tight budget while remaining sympathetic to the original design.

Arthur Thomson Hall is the principal medicine lecture theatre at the University of Birmingham, seating up to 500 students and was originally panelled in 9mm mahogany veneer on a timber backing. According to Rav Kumar, the Project Architect, Knauf's technical input made a substantial contribution to the final outcome. "The original panelling was varnished timber which was very aged and damaged," he explains. “We wanted a material that was flexible, simple, and offered a range of finishes. The panel's ability to be laminated by almost any product, with little impact on the overall cost, was a significant plus point for us."

Knauf worked with the team, introducing the product that was eventually used, producing samples that featured various laminates and finishes, assisting in detailing and providing working drawings both at the tender stage and during construction.

Rav says the team selected Knauf Design, the decorative gypsum panel, as it is resilient, easy to install – and could meet the constraints of a tight budget.

"Knauf Design panels met the specification because they can take many differing laminates, which cuts costs to point where the cost of the laminate is insignificant, so we could employ the material quite widely and also be sure that it would match all the other finishes, such as the laminate used for the desks and chairs."

In the new theatre all the detailing – from skirting, cills and heater casings to wall panels to ceilings and even the signage for the entrance hall – are made from Knauf Design panels in Formica's Natural Oak with Lime Green.

To meet the tight deadline – the hall was only available from the end of term in July through to September when prospective students would be shown round – Knauf cut all the panels precisely to size in its state of the art plant before supplying them to site so that contractor Murray and Willis could install them instantly.

At the contractor’s request, the only exceptions to the cut-to-size panels were those for the tapered portal beams, which were supplied intentionally larger and to be trimmed to fit by Murray and Willis. "The material is hard and very dense," says Robert Mullarkey, Project Manager. "So it was quite tough."

But, Rav points out, the robustness of Knauf Design panels is one of the qualities that made it ideal for the job. "It's a very dense durable material, which is important in such a heavily used facility," he says. "The hall is used for everything from lectures to performances, virtually every hour of every day of the university term, so the panels have to be tough and meet the fire requirements."

Knauf Design panels are developed to provide a prefabricated, easily installed alternative for walls, ceilings and other surfaces that offers a comprehensive choice of decorative finish.

Consisting of a gypsum fibre panel, Knauf Design finished surfaces can be digitally printed, continuous pressure laminate (CPL) or high pressure laminate (HPL) coating, real wood veneer, lacquered or paint. Panels can be curved, perforated or micro-perforated to achieve any acoustic performance or supplies with a magnetic whiteboard surface.

The panels have a high density and high impact resistance, making them particularly suitable for areas of high traffic. The digital print boards can be supplied in either a uniform or standard finish while the HPL board is available in either a single colour or wood finish. The CPL boards are supplied in standard coatings of white/grey, silver/grey, anthracite and beech/maple while the boards featuring real wood veneer are available in maple, birch, beech, oak, ash and walnut.

The lacquer boards are supplied in clear lacquer as standard but can be supplied in RAL and NCS colours on request, while all the boards in the range can be supplied in bespoke finishes as required for individual projects.