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Boots Packed Wet Goods Factory
Beeston, Nottinghamshire, UK
Boots Packed Wet Goods Factory
associated engineer
Sir Owen Williams
date  1930 - 1932
era  Modern  |  category  Factory/Industrial Plant  |  reference  SK544366
photo  Owen Williams archive, part of Amey plc
Owen Williams's most successful daylight factory — one for which he is justifiably famous — is also the first project for which he was both architect and engineer. It is considered a masterpiece of the Modern Movement. However, its style did not emerge from the European line but from American concrete technology and industrialised construction methods.
Boots Pure Drug Company was American owned. Their new packed wet goods factory was built on 121 hectares of virgin land outside Nottingham. It was conceived as five zones, ranging from the unloading dock at the south end to the shipping dock at the north.
The manufacturing process, on the ground floor, is served by raw materials from the stores on the upper floors. The next stage reverses the procedure, so that completed goods are packed on the ground floor and fed back to stores on the upper floors.
The factory is a four-storey, reinforced concrete flat slab building. Its horizontal ribbons of steel frame windows use a 3.4m bay module that coordinates with the structural grid. Owen Williams used the Crittal Window Company’s system (hot rolled steel frames, crush welded joints) to maximum effect. He designed 'window walls' set into and expressive of the concrete structure, as opposed to curtain walls, which conceal it.
Vertically pivotted and top hung casements allow controlled ventilation and the extent of the glazing gives transparency and lightness to the building, making us aware of the activity within. Lightness is further emphasised by the slimmed profile of the projecting upper floor slab edges. Subtle adjustments were made to the glazing pattern to allow for differences in storey heights.
Inside, rectangular bays of 7m by 9.35m are used typically in the working areas, designed to carry floor loadings of 10.7kN per sq m. Square sectioned concrete columns with distinctive flared heads provide additional support for floors cantilevered from the external walls. The column heads accommodate the extra reinforcement bars needed at the join between column and slab.
The famous packing hall consists of an atrium some 183m long, 23m wide and 21.3m high, and crossed at each level by a narrow bridge, creating a stack of four bridges. 28 conveyor belts run between the hall and the stores.
The west flank of the building contains the administrative and general offices, laboratories, canteen and main entrance. Internal vertical service blocks containing stairs, ventilation and so on were added after the building shell was complete.
The building is unique in the UK because of its scale. European influences mainly produced small scale projects such as pavillions or houses. The American influence produced a construction rationale that enabled much larger buildings. It was to have been extended to more than double its present size to accommodate dry goods packing. However, ownership of the company changed and different requirements were identified. So the later building, although also designed by Williams, took a different form.
The Boots building design was a complete departure from Williams’s previous use of reinforced concrete. His productive association with architect Maxwell Ayrton, which had started with work on the British Empire Exhibition (1921-1924), had resulted in many joint projects but had ended in 1930. Aryton had thought of concrete as a substitute for masonry. Now the engineer-turned-architect used concrete expressively, as a highly-efficient long span column-and-slab structural system.
Williams was able to draw on the design experience he gained while working for American ferro-concrete companies, in particular the Trussed Concrete & Steel Company, for whom he was chief engineer from 1912-1916.
His expertise as an architect was further demonstrated in his ability to understand and respond to the operational requirements of factory processes. The layout of the building celebrates the processes carried out within it, operational considerations rather than established practice dictating the shape. Using an atrium form to introduce daylight into working areas was also an American idea.
Williams’s atrium roof — a steel truss with cast concrete purlins and a concrete slab punctuated with cylindrical glass block skylights — was to become a Modern Movement standard. His use of slender steel framed glazing, where coupled frames are used to create ribbons of glass, was a new development that also became central to the Movement.
Architect: Sir Evan Owen Williams
Research: ND, LG
bibliography
Historical introduction: "The Engineer's ..." by A. Peter Fawcett
The Architect's Journal, Vol. 200 No.17, 3 November 1994
reference sources   OWWOW
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Boots Packed Wet Goods Factory