Craning in the rooflight at St Ambrose Academy
There’s theory that Danish political drama Borgen is collecting its legions of UK fans due to the mesmerising quality of the Nordic interiors, rather than the quality of the script or cast. If that’s true then it’s probably good news for Danish rooflight company Velux, which has just launched its first product for the commercial market. With a marketing brochure filled with stylish interiors from a Danish school extension, its new modular skylight system promises all
the benefits of Borgen’s understated elegance and impressive lighting.
The product, which allows standard rooflight panes to be bolted together in multiple configurations, was launched in Denmark 18 months ago, followed by its debut in the UK and rest of Europe last September. In Denmark, the benefits of factory precision and better-than-average thermal performance have apparently been well-received. “We’re selling natural daylight in the education sector, hospitals and major office developments,” says UK sales manager Phil Beswick.
In the UK, the system is already bringing the Borgen effect to three new-build schools, due to Velux marketing the product in the first instance to design and build contractors with projects at site stage rather than architects at specification stage. Laing O’Rourke has installed a large 8m x 3m panel at its St Ambrose Academy in Salford; Sir Robert McAlpine is installing a total of 120 units at Sarum Academy in Salisbury; and Willmott Dixon has used the product at St Francis Primary on the Isle of Wight.
At St Ambrose, Laing O’Rourke created a large skylight over the central common areas, selecting the product partly because it fit with the policy of maximising offsite construction. The contractor assembled the 8m x 3m skylight on the ground, then craned it onto the roof, a method that shrank the programmed installation time from two weeks to two days and reduced working at height. Laing O’Rourke has now adopted the system at a second school, Moorside Academy in Manchester.
In situ at St Francis School
The modular rooflight offers an alternative to specifying a bespoke product, where typically the profiles would be manufactured offsite and the unit positioned and assembled by the installer in-situ, with sealant used to overcome any tolerance issues and flashings and cappings produced on site. Instead, the Velux system offers a fully-finished off the shelf modular system, with each pane supplied complete with frames that can be bolted together. The product also has considerable dimensional flexibility. Typically, it is offered as a 1.8m x 0.7m double-glazed unit, but there is also a wider range of standard sizes ranging from 800mm to 3m in length and 675mm to 1m in width. Triple glazing is also an option. The company is confident the skylight can be sized to fit any given hole, an important consideration in refurbishments. “Realistically, we can find a way of making the standard sizes fit, by adjusting the kerb it sits on,” says Beswick.
The product’s history began five years ago, when Velux, the UK’s market leader in domestic rooflights for pitched roofs, decided to expand into the commercial market. Exploring uncharted territory, and realising that the timber profiles on its standard range would not deliver adequate stability and strength when scaled up to fit commercial schemes, the firm sought a product design partner.
The Cathedral School in Denmark
Architect Foster & Partners, which also has a track record in product, furniture and lighting design, was brought on board to help with selecting a timber alternative for the profiles and flashings, and to assist on product design and testing. “We wanted to bring something different to the commercial market. We are a mass producer, but the commercial market is much more bespoke, but why does it need to be? We wanted to work with someone who knew both worlds,” says Beswick, explaining that Fosters was also selected because of its knowledge of materials.
Aluminium is the industry standard material for window and skylight profiles, but tends to create problems with cold bridging. So Fosters helped with the selection of a new glass fibre and polyurethane composite material, chosen for its strength, dimensional stability and better thermal performance. “It was a total departure for us, but most definitely the future for us will be in composite materials, especially in the commercial sector,” says Beswick. However, aluminium is still used for the dark grey flashings and capping on the external face, where cold bridging from the interior is not a problem.
Velux has also secured orders for five fire stations to be built by one contractor, and is talking to contractors delivering a hospital and a university project. Fosters has also specified the product on one of its projects, although the building won’t be delivered until 2015. It looks as if the Borgen effect is taking hold.