Morgan Sindall picks a cone with Aquapanel Exterior at Essex Business School

Two lecture theatres at the Essex Business School, the largest department of the University of Essex and claimed to be the UK’s first zero-carbon business school, have been constructed in an arresting and energy efficient cone shape, made possible using Aquapanel Exterior panels from Knauf – one of the UK’s leading manufacturer of lightweight building materials and systems.

Both buildings are timber framed, circular and pitched at an incline of 9 o from top to bottom, posing a challenge to main contractor Morgan Sindall its designers and subcontractor Allen Atlas Render Solutions. In each case Knauf Aquapanel Exterior proved the solution, enabling Allen Atlas to create a smooth consistent curve that was ready to render.

“The panel provided the strength and rigidity required in both the vertical and horizontal planes,” said Morgan Sindall site manager Daniel Rush. Allen Atlas also found the board fast and simple to install, despite the complexity of the shape required. “This board is not only the perfect base for the render, but also easy to work and curve,” commented Allen Atlas project manager Peter Bentham.

Accommodating up to 120 students, the MBA building is a175m2 two-story lecture theatre block that is constructed from an inclined glulam timber frame forming a facetted structure, infilled with insulated timber cassettes. Allen Atlas Render Solutions alongside the Morgan Sindall design team then built this building out up to 170mm at 380mm centres using treated timber battens to create the pitched circular shape required and then installed the Knauf Aquapanel before rendering with two systems: Baumit MC55 & Sep04 supplied by Lime Tech Ltd, and Prependuit and Lime Roughcast Render from Ty-Mawr.  

Constructed from treated timber battens and cold rolled steel at 370mm centres, the second lecture theatre is 280m2 and can accommodate up to 250 students. It was built out up to 440mm from the original timber frame and insulated timber cassettes before installing the Knauf Aquapanel, which was then rendered with Prependuit base coat and Lime roughcast render supplied by Ty-Mawr Ltd

Offering all the benefits of a dry panel system with the strength of brick and block, Knauf Aquapanel Exterior is a robust, non-combustible building panel made of aggregated Portland cement with coated glass fibre mesh embedded in back and front surfaces to provide a trouble-free surface that is the ideal key for render.

It resists water with no swelling or loss of stability, is weatherproof and is unaffected by the freeze-thaw cycle.  The board requires no special tools or processes for installation – simply score and snap – and can be curved to a tight radius to achieve bespoke effects such as those created at Essex University.

The lecture theatres are part of a £14.7 million business school designed to be carbon neutral and showcase renewable technologies in action. It is on course to achieve a Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) rating of Excellent and features a range of innovative sustainable elements including a ‘green’ sedum roof, photovoltaic cells and sustainably sourced materials.