History in Structure

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The Spectrum Building (formerly the Renault Distribution Centre)

A Grade II* Listed Building in Shaw, Swindon

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.5671 / 51°34'1"N

Longitude: -1.8243 / 1°49'27"W

OS Eastings: 412273

OS Northings: 185372

OS Grid: SU122853

Mapcode National: GBR YJQ.LS

Mapcode Global: VHB3D.BWD1

Entry Name: The Spectrum Building (formerly the Renault Distribution Centre)

Listing Date: 18 September 2013

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1416061

Location: Swindon, SN5

County: Swindon

Electoral Ward/Division: Shaw

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Swindon

Traditional County: Wiltshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Wiltshire

Church of England Parish: West Swindon and the Lydiards

Church of England Diocese: Bristol

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Summary

A warehouse for storing vehicle components, with showroom, offices and ancillary facilities, built in 1981-2 for the car manufacturer Renault to designs started in 1979 by the architect Sir Norman Foster of Foster Associates.

Description

A warehouse, formerly for storing vehicle components, with showroom, offices and training facilities, built in 1981-2 for the car manufacturer Renault to designs started in 1979 by Foster Associates. Project team: Sue Allen, Nic Bailey, Ralph Ball, Julia Barfield, Loren Butt, Chubby Chhabra, Ian Dowsett, Nick Eldridge, Roy Fleetwood, Norman Foster, Wendy Foster, Paul Heritage, Neil Holt, Paul Jones, Nick Morgan, David Morley, Ian Simpson, Mike Stacey, Chris Windsor and Arek Wzniak.  Engineers: Ove Arup and Partners. Project Director: Martin Manning. Designer: Ken Anthony. Services: Foster Associates. Main contractors: Bovis. Steel contractor: Tubeworkers.

MATERIALS: steel framed on concrete foundations, with concrete four-hour fire wall and moveable partitions internally. PVC membrane roof. 24,000 square metres, 20,000 of it warehouse space, the rest administrative offices, canteen, training facilities and showroom. Single storey, save for two-storey offices and training centre set between the top-lit warehouse and highly glazed canteen and showroom. 

PLAN: the building is articulated by 42 modules based around a central column or 'umbrella mast', each 24m square, of which 36 enclose the warehouse which has sixteen loading bays at its north end. The building tapers at its more open southern end, where the showroom is, to an open single module canopy that hovers like a modern-day porte-cochère. 

EXTERIOR: the walls are set back 2m behind the first row of umbrella masts. Tubular steel columns or masts, each with radiating spars that are supported by ties fanning out at an angle of 45º from the top of each mast. Where a tie reaches a beam, at an intermediate point along it, it is threaded through it and supports, from below, the joint with the next beam. The holes in the steel beams aid the threading of the ties, and give the building added character. The Renault Centre is an un-braced structure and as such the rows of tautly stretched open umbrellas assist one another - each one affecting dynamically those adjacent to it - to create in combination a single structure like a series of portal frames. The masts are stiffened by pre-stressed ties positioned around each major mast, one metre from them. Specially-designed castings (of spheroidal graphic cast iron) connecting the ties to the masts give an interesting visual emphasis to the perpendicularity of the masts themselves. The masts are post-tensioned in the manner of shops masts, using the Pilgrim Nut jacking system used for ships' boilers. The beams at the edge of each roof section are tightly sealed with neoprene. The building is drained through plastic pipes within each column, and the roof ceiling is of profiled metal decking, insulation and PVC covering. Slightly ribbed steel cladding. Trapezoidal roof lights on the north side of each roof panel section.  Glass walls of showroom and former cafeteria of armour plate bolted directly on to steel frames using four bolts at top and bottom, countersunk to the outside and with only silicon mastic between the 10mm thick panes. Again, this fixing, developed with Pilkingtons Ltd., allows for flexibility. Specially-formed sun screens double as catwalks and are set at an angle of elevation of 15.5 degrees. Each element of the construction was manufactured separately off-site by Tubeworkers at their Warwick factory to ensure maximum quality, and the building was assembled on site in sixteen weeks.

INTERIOR: flexible partitioning to offices at mezzanine level above the former showroom. The steel left hand stair to the mezzanine, projecting into the former showroom, survives, with that to the right being a more recent addition. The yellow steel umbrella posts and profiled metal deck ceiling to the former showroom is fully visible from below. The windows have opal-coloured, perforated blinds and semi-cylindrical convector heaters survive throughout. Former office areas at ground floor level (now converted into dance studios) have polished concrete coffered ceilings resting on polished concrete columns.

Internal walls, including those to the corridor separating the former showroom and warehouse, are built in concrete blocks in a stack bond. Perforated metal ceiling to the corridor with built-in lights. Black painted doors with circular lights and tubular handles. At the east end of the corridor is a steel and aluminium stair leading to the mezzanine above.

Inside the warehouse, the structure and ceiling is again fully visible, and its reinforced concrete floor slab with mongrano topping is left unfinished, as in the training area where some top-hung car manufacturing machinery survives. The glazed staff canteen in the far north-east corner of the warehouse survives including toilets with tall pivoting doors. The kitchen, toilets and reception areas are covered in rubber, and painted elsewhere.


History

The Spectrum Building, formerly known as the Renault Centre, was built in 1981-2 for the French vehicle manufacturing company Renault to designs started in 1979 by Foster Associates. The building was formally opened on 15 June 1983 by Madame Lalumiere, the French Secretary of State for Consumer Affairs. Renault was founded in France in 1898 by Louis Renault and his brother. By the early 1980s the company had expanded and conquered most of the international market. It is during that period they decided to built the Renault Centre in Swindon, a modern building that would reflect their prestigious brand and included a new warehouse with training facilities, showroom and offices.

After its completion the Renault Centre was admired widely: it won a Structural Steel Award, Civic Trust Award and Financial Times 'Architecture at Work' Award, all in 1984; Constructa Prize for Industrial Architecture in Europe, 1986.  In 1985 it featured in the James Bond film, 'A View to a Kill'.

The plan for the building was developed by the architect (Sir) Norman Robert Foster (born 1935, knighted in 1990). Foster is generally perceived to be amongst the most prominent contemporary architects in Britain, and was highly influential in the early development of High Tech architecture in Britain. For Renault, he made several visits to the site, piloting his own helicopter, so that the relationship to the building's setting was carefully established. The green landscaping, in contrast to the bright yellow masts and stays, forms an integral part of the concept, and yellow was a Renault company house colour. The quality of the architecture was designed to express the technological innovation of the products within. The building cost half that of Foster's previous industrial building, for IBM at Greenford, London Borough of Ealing, and used half as much steel. 

Norman Foster's first High Tech industrial building, designed with his then partner Richard Rogers, was the Reliance Controls Factory in Swindon, completed in 1967.  The reputation of that building and Foster's subsequent work made it easier to secure planning permission for Renault, and for a building capable of significant extension.  Flexibility was the key to the entire design. Most warehouses are built on linear structural bay systems on the premise that storage systems are usually laid out in one direction. But Renault has a variety of racking systems, and Foster devised a true 'grid' system around a single central column or mast that could be extended in any direction - important on an irregular site. The stacking systems could be changed with equal ease.  The frame thus works as a series of independent structures bolted together and further linked by tension trusses. 

Masted tent roofs could not really be developed until there was a way of solving the problems of wind uplift, which could force the tensioned ties into compression and thereby to buckle.  With its combination of high-tensile steel and cast-iron bolts, Renault was one of the first buildings to solve this problem. Because it is not braced as a whole, the building enjoys greater tolerances and is more flexible to change or extension, as was always envisaged. The walls are entirely independent of the frame, yet are inset to reveal something of the building's structure. 

As part of his concept of total design, Foster designed all fixtures and fittings for the building, including free-standing office furniture and warehouse storage systems. The glass top tables with steel and aluminium legs for the reception area and cafeteria were designed to echo the design of the beams and mullions of the building itself. The designs were developed from Foster's experiments in furniture design for his own office in the early 1970s and they were to go on to inspire his later Nomos office furniture system, developed with Tecno of Milan and marketed in 1987. 

Reasons for Listing

The Spectrum Building (formerly the Renault Distribution Centre) in Swindon, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: it is a particularly important building of the early 1980s by (Sir) Norman Foster, one of Britain’s foremost contemporary architects, and embodies the key features and characteristics of the British High Tech Movement;
* Technological interest: it is a highly innovative industrial building using new materials, technology and design solutions, built for a forward thinking client that demanded a fully flexible and highly prestigious building which promoted the company and reflected the advanced design and technology of its products;
* Historic interest: its strong historic association with the French company Renault, which ranks amongst the most notable and prestigious car manufacturers of the twentieth century, as reflected in the building's design, adds to its high level of special interest;
* Intactness: despite some minor alterations to the interior, the building has survived remarkably intact, with the vast majority of its fixtures and fittings surviving, significantly contributing to its high degree of special interest.

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