Rodeca panels help youngsters see the lightBacklit translucent cladding panels from Rodeca have helped transform a youth centre in a deprived area of London into a green beacon of the community.

Craig Park youth centre (Unity Hub@Craig Park) is in one of the most deprived areas in London. Young people wanted a centre that would be welcoming to all young people in the area and help to reduce youth crime.

Enfield Council’s brief was for a redeveloped youth centre, which focussed on the development of youth-led peacekeeping to improve community cohesion and encourage aspiration among young people. The panels on the building are a powerful way of promoting harmony since their welcoming glow in the evening light adds to the creativity and fun activities going on inside the new centre.

The £2.5million development comprises a remodelling of existing brick, concrete frame and timber accommodation and the demolition of a single-storey building for replacement by a new steel-frame two-storey one, all which are clad (the new extension at first-floor level) by more than 1,000m2 of Rodeca’s translucent polycarbonate panels.

These 40mm-thick Opal panels have also been used in the lightwell of a three-storey climbing cave which emerges dramatically through the roof of the over-clad remodelled building (25mm with Heat Bloc), on the soffit of the external social space overhang (30mm) and the entrance canopy (40mm).

They were specified for Craig Park by Curl la Tourelle Architects, who had used Rodeca panels before as canopy roofing though never as wall cladding, for their ability to deliver transparency and illumination as well as thermal improvements, and all of these qualities sustainably.

Rodeca panels, which are 200 times tougher than glass, allow light transmission of up to 66% which reduces a building’s reliance on artificial light. Panels with U values as low as 0.36 W/m²K, compared to double glazing at 2.8 W/m²K and single glazing at 5.8 W/m²K, are capable of reducing energy losses by up to 80%.

Towards the end of the Craig Park design process, which had involved members of the youth centre, a full-size mock-up of the backlit Rodeca panels’ exterior wall was constructed to test its appearance and confirm enthusiastic approval from youth centre members, stakeholders and contractors.

Funded by the Government’s Myplace initiative for young people aged 13 to 19, the 1,000m2 youth centre built by main contractor Mulalley & Co now comprises a crèche, gym and flexi-spaces in the existing building, and dance and recording/media studios and social space in the new extension – activities prioritised by youth centre members during the design process.

A BREEAM “Very good” rating was achieved through a focus on recycled and recyclable materials, insulation levels that exceeded Building Regulations, natural ventilation and renewable energies such as solar panels.

Curl la Tourelle senior associate Andrew Lloyd said: “We looked at a number of cladding options but the Rodeca panels gave us the opportunity to explore the different levels of transparency and illumination that we wanted for the façade and provided an opportunity to increase the thermal performance of the existing wall.

“The Rodeca panels comply well with the aesthetic and performance requirements of the project, being detailed in a fairly self-contained way. The façade cladding houses LED colour-change lighting which is programmed by the young people, causing the whole building to glow beacon-like at night, advertising its presence to the surrounding area.”

Energy demands were minimised in the existing building by over-cladding the original walls with the Rodeca panels, and in the new building, solar control was achieved through the use of the Rodeca “double multi-cell polycarbonate wall construction” and solar glass.

Andrew Lloyd said: “For the new building we selected products that contain recycled materials and have a high percentage of end-of-life recycling. The cladding panels include 30% recycled polycarbonate and with their aluminium frames are 100% recyclable. In addition, the polycarbonate over-cladding has made the existing building far more energy efficient.”

He added: “The building’s exterior presence creates an analogue, especially in the late afternoon and night when most young people use it, of young people’s energy, exuberance, enjoyable self-advertisement and immersion in the digital universe. With its striking cladding and programmable LED illumination, its joyful appearance is a welcome contrast with its north London neighbourhood context.

“Opening the new Unity Hub@Craig Park has accelerated community peace. The Hub reports that young people cannot believe their behaviour was so different only a short time before.”

The brief was inspired by two quotations: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the change that we seek,” Barack Obama, and “Be the change you would like to see in the world,” Gandhi.

Ron Grace, programme manager for Enfield Council’s property services, said: “The building is truly a manifestation of the ethos and intention of Enfield’s Youth Support Service to reach out to young people in a deprived area of North London.

“I think the way the building metaphorically and physically breaks down barriers with its translucent appearance is extremely successful, providing glimpses into the activities within and advertising these to the wider community.”