The Apex, Arc, Bury St Edmunds
Commercial & Public Access Highly Commended 2011
Building Owner: St Edmundsbury Borough Council
Architect: Hopkins Architects
Builder / Main Contractor: Haymills Vinci (fit-out works, including joinery) / Vinci Construction UK (shell works)
Structural Engineers: WSP
Joinery: Coulson Joinery
Wood Supplier: Associated Timber Services Ltd
Wood Species: As follows;
American white oak
- T&G flooring with resiliently supported WBP ply substrate (Auditorium ground floor)
- T&G flooring on metal-encased raised floor tiles (balconies and first floor foyer)
- T&G soffit boarding with resiliently hung WBP ply substrate (Auditorium)
- High level glue-laminated technical access deck below rooflight (Auditorium)
- Slotted acoustic soffit panels
- Solid doubly-curved slotted balcony fronts
- T&G cladding to ground floor seating wagons
- Veneered backs and bases, solid arms to bespoke benches and tip-up seats
- Front of house doors and frames
- Auditorium bar and shutters
- First floor foyer bars
- Foyer reception desk
- First floor feature glue-laminated structural frame
- Foyer T&G soffit boards
- First floor internal balustrading
- Windows and external sliding doors (stained)
- External lapped cladding with sacrificial stain
- External high-level louvres with sacrificial stain
- External feature escape stairs onto Charter Square with sacrificial stain
- External balcony balustrading with sacrificial stain
Bury St Edmunds is one of England’s best preserved historic market towns, its mediaeval urban structure largely unspoilt. Comprising 10 acres immediately adjacent to the market centre of town, the site of the former Cattle Market has long been an obvious choice for future growth, but successive schemes for the site failed to engage local support. In 2001 St Edmundsbury Borough Council sought a development partner to design, fund and implement a retail-led scheme for the site to safeguard Bury’s trading future. As architects for the successful team of developer Centros Miller, we developed a masterplan for the site that sought to extend the centre of Bury with a piece of mixed-use townscape, the scale and sequence of spaces in which would be comparable to those experienced in the existing town, with its pattern of streets and squares meshing with existing routes and links into and across the site. Many of Bury’s historic buildings are timber-framed, albeit many have been clad: our scheme builds on this tradition with a framed timber superstructure over a concrete retail ground floor “table”, its infill responding to various above-ground uses. Expressed frames and boarded softwood infill have a sacrificial stain applied to mask differential effects as they weather to an even grey.
The Apex provides the civic focus for the scheme. A flexible multi-use hall, its foyer is conceived as an extension to the central square onto which it faces, and its Auditorium is articulated as a freestanding brick box embedded within one of the retail blocks. Within the box, white precast, red brick, stainless steel, leather and white oak make up a calm palette of crafted self-finished materials.
The Auditorium ground floor is movable to permit a range of performance arrangements. American white oak clad seating wagons with bespoke white oak and leather benches attached may be arranged to form a raked theatre or theatre in the round, or may be transported to the basement below to clear the space for a banquet or town fair.
Two balconies with curved white oak fronts accommodate bespoke tip-up seating to match the ground floor benches. Acoustically, Apex is state of the art, and the solidity of the thick oak fronts minimises undesirable audible resonance. Doubly-curved panels are laminated from solid timber, their geometry and horizontal slots helping to control reflections. Slotted panels at the eaves provide acoustic absorption where reflections might combine detrimentally.
Ground floor boarding and soffit boarding in the Auditorium are fixed to plywood substrates that are resiliently supported to beneficially absorb low frequencies. Budget dictated that the oak came from a single shipment so we worked with the timber supplier to prioritise the allocation of long clear boards for this floor: lengths are random, with a minimum joint stagger. Boards for the soffit and the floor of the first floor bar area are finger-jointed in designed lengths to maximize the yield of clear timber from the remainder of the shipment.
The building is entered through a glazed wall under a concrete bridge. At first floor, the bridge is occupied by lounge seating and café furniture serving the venue’s bars. The bars are in oak. The 7.5m high upper foyer is a structural frame of glue-laminated Siberian larch with bespoke steel connectors and larch soffit boards between. Three intersecting open double-pitched roofspaces wrap around the Auditorium box, maintaining acoustic isolation with a combination of structural separation and spring isolators in the heads of their columns.