Hybrid taking education to the next level

By Steve Wightman, director, Senior Architectural Systems

Despite the Building Schools for the Future programme being scrapped due to cuts in 2010, there is still a commitment on the part of the government to modernise the UK’s education infrastructure.

This commitment is most notably witnessed in the Priority School Building (PSB) programme, a centrally-managed government initiative which intends to rebuild or refurbish 261 schools over the next five years, the first of which is set for completion this year, with all work delivered by the end of 2017.

While this is clearly good news for the education sector in the UK, it also comes as a significant boost to many product manufacturers operating in the glazed façades sector. The PSB programme will mean there is still going to be a robust demand for high performance fenestration solutions in schools, which will help architects achieve environmental requirements, thermal performance targets and, of course, aesthetic demands.

Perfectly positioned to assist specifiers in meeting these demands are timber aluminium composite hybrid systems – available as high quality window, door and curtain wall systems.

Hybrid systems are the perfect solution for specifiers thanks to their ability to combine the advantages of long life and low maintenance aluminium externally with all the aesthetic and performance benefits of responsibly sourced engineered timber internally.

The thermal efficiency of a building is a critical consideration and hybrid windows, doors and curtain wall systems are perfectly placed to offer the thermal efficiency of timber and the latest in glass technology to produce U-values well below the current and anticipated future Building Regulation requirements.

The low maintenance of a hybrid system provides the advantage of fully pre-treated engineered timber internally, so any possibility of warping or twisting is eliminated. The use of timber means specifiers and architects are now seeing the benefits of using high performance engineered timber profiles, which can be treated to withstand up to 10 years’ of weathering without the need for recoating, ensuring that systems installed in high-traffic environments such as schools will last.

Some experts suggest that timber and aluminium hybrids are the lowest cost options when a 40-year life cycle analysis is undertaken against other materials and combinations, which also means these systems can be a more financially viable option for school environments.

In addition, these hybrid solutions offer excellent design flexibility, with the ability to powder coat the external aluminium in any RAL colour, while the timber internally can be provided in a range of wood types and finishes. In addition, the unique cradle-to-cradle approach which many manufacturers take when it comes to the environment means that materials can often be safely recycled at the end of their life.

Not only is the internal timber of hybrid systems of benefit to the environment but it can also add a sense of warmth to surroundings, unlike UPVC alternatives. The homely feel promoted by the timber gives students, teachers and others inside educational buildings a more inspiring, natural setting in which to work, which can only assist in day-to-day learning and progression.

The stunning aesthetic and performance attributes of hybrid curtain wall and window systems are showcased in many school projects across the UK, with the systems providing copious amounts of natural light and ventilation for staff and students alike.

These systems can offer schools an aluminium external profile providing exceptional performance, long-life and low maintenance, with contrasting engineered timber internally to provide an ideal combination of aesthetics, high insulation properties and strong environmental benefits.

Powder coated externally in a selected colour, and internally in pine with a clear lacquer for added protection, hybrid composite timber and aluminium systems can incorporate double glazed units comprising a laminated pane and a toughened pane for security and safety of the students. Meanwhile, exceptional acoustic and thermal performance can be provided by soft coat low-e units.

To help meet required BREEAM ratings, many school buildings incorporate sophisticated building management systems, which can include manually operated, hybrid, top opening vents within the curtain wall system, together with a high level of automated vent control. Actuators can be built into the hybrid frames to enable automatic operation of the top light windows without the use of handles for added safety.

Installing hybrid systems in buildings such as schools is now an aesthetic and environmental choice the specifier can make in confidence, knowing that the project in question will be protected with a stunning façade for years to come, which bodes well for the next generation of schools in this country.