How new student accommodation in Coventry is setting standards in cladding

Due for completion by the end of the year, a £38m construction project in Coventry’s city centre reflects the city’s confidence in the future despite the impact of the global pandemic. Known as UNINN Infinity, the 505 bedroomed development at Number 8 Parkside (just south of the city centre) is setting new standards on several fronts.

Firstly, the high-rise project is showcasing the very latest trends in high performance rainscreen cladding, conforming to stringent safety standards. Secondly, the project demonstrates the value of genuine collaboration and partnership across the supply chain. Given the relatively small footprint of the city centre site, main contactor Winvic Construction wanted to work with sub-contractors and suppliers able to provide materials on a just-in-time basis. This would minimise the need for storage on site and also achieve very tight tolerances when it came to cutting cladding board. Lastly, the project is a demonstration of working together to overcome the challenges created by the catastrophic Covid-19 outbreak.

High spec for a special building

Ben Fowler is Winvic’s Project Manager for the Infinity development. He was involved in discussions regarding cladding specification from the outset. “We knew the developer wanted a really high-quality feel to the building, which unusually comprises a basement containing a gym, cinema and even a karaoke lounge. The apartments are very well appointed, and the development even boasts a panoramic rooftop bar.

“While glass reinforced concrete (GRC) was originally considered for parts of the project, after extensive research it was decided that Equitone Tectiva fibre cement panels would be used for the six, 13 and 19-storey towers. The panels are supported on a secret fixed framing system, provide an excellent and cost-effective alternative, deliver excellent fire protection for residents, and create a striking, natural looking aesthetic.

We’re using three colours – pebble grey, linen and hessian – to provide a contrast with the lighter brick slips and dark powder coated windows and flashings. Parts of the building also utilise the Linea format panel which has grooved vertical lines cut into the panel to create a dramatic effect.”

In total, approximately 8,000m2 of Equitone fibre cement cladding is being used on the project; 6,500m2 of pebble grey and hessian in a mix of flat and linea and 1,500m2 of the Tectiva board in linen.

“Given the fact that the building comprises 19 storeys, this is one of the most significant uses of fibre cement rainscreen cladding we’ve seen in recent years,” comments Chris Meyerhoff of cladding supplier Vivalda Group. “This project really demonstrates that when properly specified, rainscreen cladding can surpass all safety regulations and look fantastic too!”

A vital technique employed by Winvic’s cladding contractor, CA Group, who is working in partnership with supplier Vivalda, relates to the use of secret fixings for all of the linen Tectiva. CA Group’s operations manager of specialist cladding systems, John Corner, explains: “While GRC had been excluded from the project due mainly to cost, the developers still wanted to achieve a high quality, smooth finish to key areas of the external cladding. This is where the latest developments in fixing technology is paying dividends.”

Fixed on success

Traditionally, 8mm cladding board (as is the case with the Equitone’s Tectiva product) has presented technical challenges to many types of secret fix systems. Vivalda’s Chris Meyerhoff, said: “For years, the cladding industry has been exploring new ways to achieve secret fixings without the use of adhesives. Mechanical fixings were often challenged when boards of 8mm or thinner was concerned, as there was limited opportunity to engage rivets.

“We came across a system by SFS called TUF-S, which enables 8mm cement board to be secretly fixed without any problems. We undertake installation in one of our UK branches with a riveting tool, which ensures consistency. This uses a carbon steel mandrel which when removed, leaves the stainless steel fastener securely in place. The fastener is open, which prevents trapped moisture from damaging the external face of the board over time and as it does not ‘screw in’, there is no danger of unwinding; ensuring a fixing solution that lasts.

“This has really opened up the market for fibre cement board, which can now achieve a smooth external finish using reliable, consistent secret mechanic fix.”

Another notable feature of Coventry’s UNINN Infinity project has been the use of off-site fabrication and JIT delivery to maintain accuracy and quality of cladding delivered to the city centre location. CA Group’s John Corner comments: “We’re seeing fewer and fewer construction sites doing any cutting or preparation of cladding boards on-site. This is due to issues relating to accurate cutting and the proper installation of fixings. It’s far easier to get these things right using CNC cutting tables and reliable power tools in a controlled environment. Knowing Vivalda will provide us with ready-to-hang panels accurately cut to size when we need then gives us one less thing to worry about.”

Working through Covid

The global Coronavirus pandemic has had a terminal effect on many sectors of industry, but construction has stepped up and proved the value of working together in difficult times. Ben Fowler explains: “When Government announced lockdown on 23 March, Winvic temporarily suspended works on all of its sites, to give our project management teams time to review and assess the sites, and to develop site-specific return to work plans that adhere to the guidance on social distancing. Working on 19 floors, and sometimes in tight spaces, presented us with a huge challenge, but by doing what we do best – communicating and working as one team – we were able to restart works promptly with the team following a site-specific return to work plan.”

Winvic moved decisively to ask all subcontractors to provide detailed risk assessments on how they planned to manage their people under the new control measures they outlined for the site. This  new modus operandi included social distancing of 2m, staggered start times for all workers, replacement of bio-metric security in favour of a manual system, the use of masks, visors and gloves and the employment of additional cleaners in key areas over and above our usual very high standards.

Ben Fowler continued: “We’ve been on a steep learning curve over the last few months, but our employees and the sub-contractors have really pulled together to keep the project on track. Every time new government guidance comes out, we get together to rewrite site specific practices – so it’s a bit of a moving target.”

Winvic has worked hard to develop a robust, colour-coded access system for all sub-contractors. “It’s been a complete shift in mindset,” comments Ben, “but thanks to the professionalism, flexibility and dedication of the team, we’ve managed to keep the Parkside project progressing.”

With phase one of the Infinity due to complete in September (delivering 194 apartments), the remaining 310 will be complete before the end of the year.