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Award Nominated Car Park in Newport

24 November 2010

The new multi-storey car park at the Kingsway shopping centre in Newport is unusual in many ways.

Not least for the fact that the custom designed safety barriers were developed in conjunction with the architect as an integral feature of the building. Although many people view Newport as a typical South Wales town suffering from the decline in the coal and steel industries they are in fact quite wrong.

Firstly, since 2002 Newport has been a city not a town and its history goes back to Roman times and beyond. It received its first charter in 1134 and has pretty much mirrored the various fortunes of Welsh history ever since.

The current regeneration plan for the city centre is part of the continuing evolution of what is currently the 3rd largest city in Wales. So architect Meret Gabra of Colman Architects in London was determined to make the new multi-storey car park worthy of the city and demonstrate that car parks can be feature buildings that enhance their environment rather than detract from it.

Originally the car park was to link the existing and refurbished Kingsway Shopping Centre to a new £200m Friars Walk development containing a much wider range of retail and leisure outlets. Accordingly the council specified that 1400 parking spaces were needed and this meant squeezing 9 stories into a site that would eventually provide direct access to the new Debenhams. Because of the irregular site shape Meret Gabra decided that the style of the cladding would be vital to the overall success of the design and it would need to be innovative to create curved and angled shapes wrapped around sculptural forms.

However, her extensive experience in car park design also informed her that the perimeter barriers would need to be an integral part of the facade treatment or their essential function could overwhelm and dominate the creative aesthetics.

Recognising that the performance aspects of the barriers would need to be designed into custom made solutions, Meret contacted Berry Systems and invited them to work alongside her and the rest of the team to develop barriers that harmonised with her design without the least compromise to safety and performance. The brief was centred around the use of horizontal, circular bars that empathised with the flow of the steel cladding.

An internal curve to the barriers would minimise the visual impact as well as inhibit climbing and meet pedestrian safety standards. They also had to be easily replaceable in the event of damage. As with many projects, reality did involve some compromises along the way as circumstances changed. The biggest impact was caused by the suspension of the entire Friars Walk project as the developer failed to secure the necessary funding in the wake of the banking crisis.

Newport City Council is currently out to tender for new developers so a scheme will eventually proceed but undoubtedly to a different design. However Debenhams and other potential occupiers have already stated their continuing interest so it’s highly likely that ultimately the link to the Kingsway Centre will be needed. In the meantime an intended sacrificial wall has become an exposed perimeter and standard Berry spring steel buffers have been used to secure this.

Fortunately the main frontage of the car park was not affected and the new system was developed to plan albeit with numerous challenges along the way. Early empirical testing revealed the need for interim posts to support the horizontal bars and enable them to withstand the forces defined in BS 6399. But rigid posts would need to withstand high pull out loadings and to do that would need deep embedments that would in turn compromise the thin floor profile that was a key feature of the design.

Berry’s ingenious solution to this conundrum drew upon their expertise in flexible systems designed to absorb impacts. A flexible bollard system in their range was adapted to create a mounting post with impact absorbing characteristics. This reduced the pull out loadings to more manageable levels and could be incorporated with relatively minor adaptations to the deck construction to accommodate the fixings. As an added bonus it also made the whole barrier more resistant to damage and so less likely to need cosmetic repair following an impact.

Discreet anti-climb mesh was also added because, even with an internal curve, step up points could not be eliminated from the barriers. However the visual effect of this from the exterior is minimal. Meret was delighted with the results. “I’ve worked with Berry Systems many times before but they really did an amazing job on this project. They worked so well with the whole team and were very patient and innovative in helping me achieve my vision for this building.” When the car park opened, John Burrows of Newport Unlimited Urban Regeneration Company said "This is a great asset for Newport City Centre.”

The judges at the British Parking Awards obviously agreed as they voted it onto the shortlist for the 2010 Car Park of the Year Award. Berry’s Sales and Marketing Manager Simon Bradbury commented “It shows what can be done when the architect, contractor and manufacturer all work so well together from the earliest stage.”

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