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Glazing by Kawneer features on Southend Pier's new cultural centre.

Glazing systems from leading architectural aluminium systems supplier Kawneer had a double challenge on their hands when they were specified for a building on the longest pier in the world.

Not only did they need to be capable of withstanding the extreme environment on Southend Pier but they also needed to be able to withstand being part of a cultural centre that had to be craned into position in its entirety.

Nevertheless, Kawneer's AA®100 zone-drained curtain walling, AA®601 fixed light casement windows, and series 190 heavy-duty commercial entrance doors and AA®605 low/medium-duty swing doors now help to frame the view of the Thames estuary.

The Kawneer systems were installed off-site at Tilbury by specialist sub-contractor Drayton Windows for main contractor Kier Construction. 

The 376m² building was then towed on a barge to the pier head, one mile out at sea, and lifted into position at high tide using a 400-tonne marine sheer leg crane. But not before on-site testing ensured the pier's 100-year-old piles were capable of withstanding the 170-tonne weight of the new building.

The length of Southend Pier has been a challenge ever since it was originally built but the angular landmark now features a cultural centre comprising a 150-seat multi-purpose hall, an artist's studio and a café.

An international competition for ideas to revamp the pier head that attracted more than 70 entries was won by Swedish practice White Arkitekter who originally designed a group of three buildings. 

But after the local authority's bid for a £5million grant from the CABE-administered and culture-focussed Sea Change fund was rejected and the budget halved, the design was reduced to two and then a single unit.

This has however, proved more than sufficient to persuade visitors to pay the £2 to walk the nautical mile or £3.60 to take the easier option on the miniature train.

The design, delivered in collaboration with executive architect Sprunt, had to evolve to counter many challenges including a flood analysis which meant the internal floor level had to be raised on a plinth 1.6m above the board walk.

In addition, Natural England's concerns that rare gulls would crash into the extensive Kawneer glazing were countered by a deepening of the glass tint to contrast with the silver-anodised glazing bars which sit discreetly in the renderings.


Photo: Luke Hayes

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