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Dramatic Nordic Copper

A striking rooftop extension, clad in Nordic Copper from Aurubis, announces the new teaching and learning centre for Birkbeck, University of London, housed in a prominent, refurbished corner building. Architectural practice Penoyre & Prasad, a studio of Perkins&Will, discusses its design.


Penoyre & Prasad’s project revitalises the existing 1920s block by rediscovering and enhancing the original design elements whilst embracing its historical spirit. The building sits in a sensitive heritage context, diagonally opposite Sir John Soane’s Grade I Listed Holy Trinity Church, and within walking distance of Euston Road’s significant landmark buildings.

The design addresses the contrasting large scale of Euston Road and small scale of Warren Street with its surrounding residential neighbourhood. Using a form that mediates these two contexts, the refurbishment enhances the existing building. Two distinct elements – the refurbished existing building and the new copper-clad lecture theatre – appear together as a sculptural object on a busy urban corner.

Dramatic and playful form

The new lecture theatre appears as a dramatic form, its playfulness enhanced by different installation styles of copper cladding, protruding from the top of the existing building. The Nordic Standard copper is subtly different in colour – which will continue to develop naturally over time – and materiality from the existing building below, expressing the extension as a clearly distinct object and a landmark.

The bold, new copper form embraces the existing building, while its cantilevered facade extends outwards in a welcoming gesture towards the community. As night falls, the building illuminates, showcasing the activity within and expressing the significance of Birkbeck as the UK’s only evening university. The building’s prominence showcases the Birkbeck brand to a broader audience and contributes to its reputation as a world-class teaching institution.

Rejuvenated existing building

Mark Rowe, Principal at Penoyre & Prasad, commented: “Our aim for this project was to breathe new life into the existing building and give Birkbeck a dynamic presence in a prominent location. The Nordic Copper clad, twisted lecture theatre protrudes from above the building, creating a striking moment that can be recognised from afar, whilst providing the much-needed teaching spaces.”

The new centre forms part of the university’s broader strategy to provide more high-quality teaching space. The seven-storey building accommodates a cafe that is open to the public and a learning hub for students on the ground floor and basement. Teaching and learning spaces fill the upper floors, and a state-of-the-art, 180-person lecture theatre and a 25-person classroom inform the sculpted rooftop extension.

Living copper surfaces

As well as Nordic Standard ‘mill finish’ copper, the extensive Nordic Copper range also includes Nordic Brown with the same oxidised brown surface that otherwise develops over time in the environment. The thickness of the oxide layer determines the colour of the surface finish, with darker or lighter (Nordic Brown Light) shades of brown.

Nordic Blue, Nordic Green and Nordic Turquoise pre-patinated surfaces have been developed with properties and colours based on the same brochantite mineralogy found in natural patinas all over the world. As well as the solid patina colours, ‘Living’ surfaces are available for each colour with other intensities of patina flecks revealing some of the dark oxidised background material.

Copper alloys are growing in popularity as well, including Nordic Bronze and Nordic Brass – which can also be supplied pre-weathered. The innovative Nordic Royal is an alloy of copper with aluminium and zinc, giving it a rich golden through-colour and making it very stable. It has a thin protective oxide layer containing all three alloy elements when produced. As a result, the surface retains its golden colour and simply loses some of its sheen over time, as the oxide layer thickens with exposure to the atmosphere to give a matt finish.

Inspirational copper stories

A growing series of ‘copper stories’ building studies exemplify the best in contemporary architecture and showcase the diversity of surfaces, forms and applications available with Nordic Copper today. For more information, visit the website below.

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