Location – Coventry
Architect – Cullinan Studio
Client – University of Warwick
Structural engineer – ARUP
Main contractor – Balfour Beatty
Joinery – B&K Structures
Quantity surveyor, cost consultant & project manager – Rider Levett Bucknall
Timber engineer – engenuiti
Wood supplier – Rubner Holzbau Gmbh, Ober-Grafendorf, Binderholz GmbH
Species – CLT, spruce glulam (European)
Client Partners – WMG at the University of Warwick, Jaguar Land Rover, Tata Motors UK
“We are looking for a scheme that has challenged the engineer, where the concept has been delivered in spite of that challenge and where the resultant structure is in some way integral to the success (and architecture) of the building.”
A sweeping diagrid timber roof – one of the world’s largest – crowns the new National Automotive Innovation Centre (NAIC) in Coventry. It is a symbol in two senses: it provides a common umbrella for groups from the WMG department at the University of Warwick, Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Motors European Technical Centre, which had hitherto been scattered across the Midlands; and its material evokes the low-carbon future towards which the research teams are working.
“It was a bold move to propose that the dominant material expressed in a building about the automotive industry is one that is almost entirely absent from transport vehicle engineering – wood,” noted juror David Morley. “Yet the client was convinced about ‘the robust engineered approach, the look and feel of warm natural material in an industrial setting, and the evidence for its contribution to wellbeing’.”
The largest research facility of its kind in Europe, the NAIC houses 1,000 staff and students working across design, engineering and research. Against this industrial setting, the natural softness of the timber roof, which serves as the building’s focal point both internally and externally, provides a sense of warmth and well-being to visitors and staff.
The walls of the NAIC were assembled using a process of prefabricated, self-spanning timber and CLT megapanels, while the roof is comprised of a glulam CLT lattice structure supported by a 15m beam grid. The dramatic soffit profile at the building’s entrance is especially eye-catching, drawing users into the centre, while internal staircases are outfitted with carefully crafted timber handrails. “There is a hierarchy of elegantly detailed timber permeating the design from the micro to the macro,” noted Morley. “No doubt a product of a client with a passion for superb engineering and a skilful architect able to take up the challenge. The visiting panel was unanimous in the view that this was an award-worthy building.”