1989 - Ice Rink

Skating rinks transform an infrequent wintertime activity into a graceful and popular sport that can be enjoyed indoors at any time of year. In designing a structure to house an ice rink, a long, low shed like warehouse or industrial building is really all that is required. Such a building, however, would merge all too easily into its surroundings. This modern rink in Oxford, designed by Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners, announcers presence clearly, for the architect is consciously making a display of the building's structure. The masts and rigging are functional, not a cosmetic afterthought,  while the ingenious nautical metaphor is carried through into details such as porthole windows, deck-like galleries and a long entrance ramp resembling a companion-way. The aerial view of the framework clearly shows how it all works- the giant masts hold up a cross-beam that takes the bulk of the load imposed by the walls and roof. As an engineering concept it is elegant and brilliantly simple. The cantilevered stands at modern football grounds follow a similar principle. Why choose such a design in preference to a more conventional structure?

 This spectacular building resembles a Hi-Tech schooner that, searching for the South China seas, has found only the Oxford one-way system. It owes its unusual form to practical considerations. The site is on marshland near the river; the geology is not particularly stable, with a layer of what engineers describe as 'rubbish' above alluvial clay (which has a very poor load-bearing capacity), beneath which is gravel. Finding a way of supporting the enormous weight of a brick and concrete structure would represent a complex - if not impossible - engineering challenge. The orthodox solution would have been to have sunk deep piles into the gravel, but this would have been very expensive. The solution put forward by architects Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners was to sling a lightweight structure of glass and weight-saving steel panels across the site and suspend it from 'masts' sunk deep into the foundations. The bulk of the load is taken by a massive roof beam hung between two tall masts, each of which rests on a group of four deep piles. The beams extend beyond the building to form struts, which divert the loading of the masts. Very slight movement is possible to allow for such factors as wind and thermal expansion - even the build-up of a deep layer of snow on the roof. Grimshaw's solution was not only practical but also significantly cheaper than the alternatives that were considered. The visual aspect, of course, is vitally important. For obvious reasons the ice needs to be shielded from the sun and conventionally built ice rinks have tended to be rather gloomy, windowless places, with a minimum of natural light. This one has been oriented away from the sun so that the whole of the front wall, facing a busy road, can be of plate glass. This poses no risk to the ice and enables passers-by to see exactly what is going on inside - at night, watching skaters gliding by in a pool of brilliant light, the effect is particularly striking. The genius of it all is that it is not merely self-supporting but also self-advertising.

1985 - Henley Regatta HQ

Further reading