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The Hive, Worcester, UK

Nick Hodges, Envelope Package Architect for Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

The Hive, Worcester's recently opened Library and History Centre certainly has a striking presence. A beacon for learning, it is a key part of Worcester's river frontage, highly visible from the rising ground to the south and west. The articulation of its unique external form resonates with the scale and grain of the setting: the roofline echoes the profile of the Malvern Hills visible to the west, and recalls the Royal Worcester kilns which, with the Cathedral, once dominated the city's skyline.

The iconic 'funnels' are as fundamental to the interior of the building as they are to its external appearance, providing natural light and ventilation to the heart of the floor plates.

The Hive evolved from a groundbreaking partnership to create a fully integrated public and university library, which is completely new to the UK and highly innovative internationally. The building also includes the county archives and record office, a local history centre, the county's archaeology service and a multi-agency customer service centre. The Hive is a cultural, learning and information centre of excellence - promoting lifelong learning, engendering social inclusion and raising aspirations in the broadest sense for the whole community, regardless of age, background, or ability.

Reflecting Local Materials

The cladding of golden copper alloy shingles reflects the rich palette of colours and materials which characterise the city centre - the red and gold of brick, terracotta and stone embellished with gilded filigree and finely decorated encaustic tiles. The elevational language of solid walls and punched openings also draws on the local vernacular: solid and void are balanced to optimise light, air and view, with care to avoid overheating and glare, and the need for excessive mechanical systems to maintain a comfortable environment.

The articulation of the roof form as a series of irregular cones is designed to reduce the scale of this significant new public building to better relate to the fine grain of the historic city. The distinctive roof cones are formed in solid laminated timber panels that span between the eaves beam and a timber ring beam at the top of each cone. The plinth, which varies in height around the perimeter, is clad in Forest of Dean Pennant stone to match the paving to the public realm: the ochre streaks echo the golden cladding.

Golden Cloak

The copper alloy cladding was chosen to allow the use of a single material to roof and elevations – a 'golden cloak' draped over the form. The scale of the 600x600mm tiles and the slight offset with which they are laid gives the impression of carapace of scales. As an architectural language, the copper shingles are articulated as 'thin' – expressed at the window reveals and soffits as 25mm deep, with the remaining depth to the glazing finished with dark anodised aluminium to match the curtain walling.

The shingles are intentionally overlapped rather than tightly coursed – to provide a natural element of variation that allowed openings in the copper alloy to be more freely positioned. It was felt that had the coursing been tighter then the resulting small cuts at openings would have been more noticeable. It was calculated that the difference in additional material was around 1% and this was considered acceptable in terms of ease of working on site. More critically it was felt that the coursing of the copper should align from the walls to the roof cones, so that there was a feeling of continuity. 

Architectonic Detailing of Copper Alloy Shingles

Articulation of the metal 'fabric' was developed in the detailing of the material at corners, eaves and window cills. A critical part of the material expression was to ensure that it appeared seamless and that cover pieces or horizontal elements of gold that might break up the shingle pattern were avoided. The design team were aided by the excellent copper installers who mocked-up a number of the key detail junctions (some shown here) for discussion and exploration ahead of the start of their site works.

As the installations progressed to site, the installers identified potential difficulties with particular gutter junctions early enough for the design team to discuss practical solutions on site. These conversations were supported by sketches and formal drawings, and testing where necessary. The quality of the copper alloy skin, as part of the overall finished building, is evidence of how well the design and installation team worked together.

At nearly 12,000m2 it would be easy for the sheer volume of such a striking material to be the defining characteristic – but, by developing the details together with a dedicated and skilled installer, the cladding becomes more than simply distinctive. Instead, the prominence of the material is embellished and refined: the subtleties of the golden cloak demonstrated in its careful stitching together. 



Worcestershire County Council and the University of Worcester
Completion date: 
United Kingdom
Zip code: 
The Butts


Type of building: 
Copper used: 
Golden alloy


Name, office: 
Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

Copper contractors

Norman and Underwood
Address & description: 
Copper Product: TECU® Gold



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