← Back to portfolio

Renault Distribution Center, UK - A Wonderful Steel Structure

Published on

Renault Distribution Centre is a marvel of structural steel projects and high tech architecture. Located in Swindon, a beautiful town in the southwest of the UK, this building is listed as Grade II by English Heritage. In simple words, Grade II listed means the Renault Distribution Centre is a structure of special interest in the UK, warranting every effort of preserving it. This cable-supported structure has won several other awards as well.

Wondering what’s so special about the Renault Distribution Centre? This article covers everything in detail about this wonderful steel building.

Design, Architecture, and Construction

Famous British architect Norman Foster designed this building for a French automobile manufacturing company Renault in 1979. He is known as a pioneer in the field of high tech architecture. Renault Distribution Center is one of his notable designs.

High tech architecture is also called structural expressionism. It is a late-modern architectural style that uses technology in building design. This style focuses on the transparency, openness, and structural integrity of a building throughout its exterior and interior. Steel and glass are extensively used in high tech architecture as compared to concrete. The Renault Distribution system is its perfect example.

You must have seen the yellowish logo of Renault on their cars. All the structural and design elements of this building have the same yellow color, expressing the corporate ownership of the company. This innovative approach of Norman Foster gives such an identifiable character to the center that it does not even carry a sign or logo of Renault. The yellow roof is enough! This building so perfectly represented the brand that Renault used it as a backdrop in their advertising campaigns for many years.

The structural engineer of the Renault Distribution Center’s project was Ove Arup & Partners. Davis Belfield Everest did its quantity surveying. The landscape architecture of the project was done by Technical Landscapes Ltd. Foster + Partners were also responsible for the environmental engineering aspects of the project. The main contractor of the project was Bovis Construction Ltd. Its construction started in July 1981 and was completed in December 1982. The center was formally opened in June 1983.

Use and Purpose of the Building

Renault Distribution Center is basically a warehouse that functioned as the main UK distribution facility for the company. Though it’s a multipurpose building that houses a showroom, a staff restaurant, a training school, some offices, and workshops.

The total floor area of the center is approximately 25,000 square meters with dimensions of 288m by 96m. The maximum size of the warehouse is 10m. As far as the capacity of the center is concerned, it is quite spacious. It can easily accommodate 250 people at a time.

Structural System of the Building

The structure of the Renault Distribution Center is based on Foster’s experience of designing the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation Headquarters. The building has a modular layout with removable partition walls. Each module of the center and its showroom has a size of 24m by 24m. It has a total of 42 such modules.

Each module is covered by an umbrella-shaped steel element. The steel umbrella has a central steel mast with beams radiating from its top point. These steel umbrellas were developed as portal frames on the diagonal and rectangular axes. There is a PVC roof membrane spread on the decking sheets. The membrane stretches across the portal frames and is supported by the purlins. This makes the primary structure of the Renault Distribution Center for taking wind and dead loads. There is also cladding and glazing that goes horizontally on the walls. They are supported by a secondary structure of vertical mullions. However, the secondary structure is structurally independent of the primary structure. You can visualize all these members by looking at this photo:

Why was the structure of the Renault Center developed like this? You must be thinking, right? Well, it was a better alternative to the conventional one because it didn’t require large column and beam sections, internal partitions, and a braced roof which could make the floor plan rigid.

The portal frames that we discussed earlier had continuous beams and columns stiffened by prestressed tension members radiating from the top. They provide a thorough connection between the beams and columns. The inverted catenary arch shape of the beams provides resistance to the uplift wind forces. The angled beams vary in depth to the forces that cause them to bend. The vertical ties ensure the overall stability of the structure by transferring the load directly to the ground.

The PVC roof membrane has small vents for air circulation. The external walls are made of white-colored cladding panels that give a good contrast to the bright yellow masts and reflect the brand identity of Renault into the structure. The height of these panels is 4m. Whereas the showroom has 8m glazed walls.

In the showroom, cars are displayed across the floor and empty car shells are suspended from its ceiling. The office area is adjacent to the showroom connected by a metal staircase. The interior décor and furniture match the overall design aesthetics of the building.

The Renault Distribution Center encompasses structural and architectural innovation. Its steel is framed on concrete foundations. The entire structure of the center was prefabricated off-site. The assembly and installation of the intricate

structural members show the skill of its construction workers.

Interesting Facts about the Building

  • The Renault Distribution Center was featured in the 1984 James Bond movie “A View to a Kill”. Its unique architecture attracted the producers of the Bond film to shoot different scenes featuring the main actor, Roger Moore.
  • Just after an year of its opening, the building won the Structural Steel Award, Civic Trust Award, and the prestigious Financial Times ‘Architecture at Work’ Award in 1984.

  • The center got a second name as “The Spectrum Building” in 2001.

Note: I wrote this article for a client on LinkedIn. He has a blog related to structural engineering and steel. 

    Subscribe to get sent a digest of new articles by Jafar

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.