Prototypes or mock-ups of proposed façade systems are not new in the construction industry, but their use is rightly becoming more commonplace, says Andy Thomas, regional director at Vivalda Group.
Most contractors working in the roofing and cladding sectors will have come across the idea of mock-ups. Generally constructed by the installer or supplier, these are complete façade systems in miniature, which demonstrate how the proposed cladding will look on the building. They also give the installer the opportunity to illustrate the total façade system in operation – including the fixings, framing, insulation, fire breaks and membranes.
While the use of mock-ups used to be seen as a bit of luxury (dare I say employed by some in the trade as a marketing tool), their use is now becoming far more popular, even integral to the successful commencement of cladding projects. This trend has certainly gained traction during the post-Grenfell era, where all parties in the supply chain are much more aware of fire safety and the performance of the façade system.
In recent months, we have also seen much greater involvement by residents’ associations in the approval process, often requiring them to examine the proposed cladding and associated products, before they are installed on the building.
Our experience shows that presenting cladding system prototypes on-site has a number of benefits, which we think should be adopted by developers and contractors as standard practice. While the display of cladding boards allows planners, residents and architects to see how the proposed façade looks in the open air, it also enables the installers and contractors to ensure that the fixing system – be it secret or visible – meets the specification in practice. In several instances, we have witnessed small yet significant changes to the fixings once mock-ups have been undertaken.
While aesthetics are important, getting the project through planning is vital. And this is where the employment of mock-ups really adds value. Planners within local authorities and major developers are now understandably very interested in the construction of the cladding system, not just the external board that is visible. Being able to demonstrate the total façade system to planners gives them confidence in the professionalism of the contractor and their decision to specify an A-rated cladding system including associated fixings, framing and insulation. The use of mock-ups really builds trust and facilitates a smooth planning approval process.
There is also a very strong practical benefit to the use of mock-ups, as they encourage all parties in the cladding supply chain (manufacturer, supplier, installer and main contractor) to work more closely together. The very act of demonstrating the total façade system creates greater transparency (literally) and encourages any technical queries to be raised before the first cladding board is installed.
Island House remediation
We are currently involved with the remediation work on Island House, a residential development in Bow, London, which required extensive recladding of an existing timber façade, which no longer met safety standards.
Working closely with A2 cladding brand Cedral and the contractors Kershaw Roofing, we developed several mock-ups, measuring 3m x 3m at our London branch, before transportation to the site at Bromley by Bow. Being able to show the full cladding models to the planning authorities and residents really made a difference to the project, providing confidence to all parties that the non-flammable replacement cladding looked fantastic and exceeded all safety regulations. Given the fact that the replacement Cedral planks are made from sustainable fibre-cement, this will provide virtually maintenance-free cladding on the building for decades to come.
Housing minister Michael Gove has recently signalled his intention to make funding available for affected buildings over 11m in height, so it is safe to assume we will be seeing a lot more of this type of project in the next few months and years.
While the construction of cladding mock-up may appear to add time and some cost to the recladding process, our recent experience shows how valuable this stage can be with remediation projects.