dcsimg State of the art - Ramboll Group

State of the art

Internationally, cultural buildings add new value and meaning in our modern society, and are often used to regenerate urban areas. Lack of space in the urban landscape has led to an innovative approach where former industrial areas are reused to breathe new life into the city.



The Harpa Concert and Conference Centre in Reykjavik was created using what was then the world's largest 3D design model. Click for a detailed view. Image: Nic Lehoux

Ramboll Director of Arts and Culture, Anton Sawicki, is currently involved in two of the most prestigious arts and culture projects in Europe: the extension of the Tate Modern gallery in London, and the new National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo. These are just the most recent projects in a long career that has included award-winning galleries, museums, and theatres in the UK and Europe.

Designed for international standards

"Arts and culture buildings are often conceived as artworks in themselves," Anton Sawicki explains.

"They’re unusual or complex forms that already pose certain challenges to the structural design. Then, there are all the specific constraints you face. Loading capacity is an important factor, since some artworks may weigh several tonnes. Heating and ventilation systems have to be perfectly adapted to house what may be very sensitive historic collections. The use of natural light can be a powerful feature of the design, and also has a role to play in achieving energy efficiency."

In Anton’s view, this is precisely where the engineer’s contribution really comes into its own. The engineer’s knowledge of materials, his understanding of how structural and services elements work together to define building performance, and his familiarity with phasing and programme issues, means he often plays a crucial role in reconciling the architect’s vision with the constraints of a challenging brief. Over the past ten years, the need to deliver on wider strategic objectives has led to tighter, more challenging design briefs. Energy efficiency, sustainability, ultra-flexible exhibition and performance spaces, and of course ever-tightening budgets: these are just some of the design drivers that are defining the current generation of arts and culture buildings. 

Reaching the best solutions

By getting involved during the conceptual stage, Anton Sawicki and his team are able to help realise the design in the best possible way:

"All the time, we look at which potential challenges may arise from various design decisions, and present various options for how to avoid them. In this process, communication is key, as the architect and customer need to understand what the effects will be. Here, 3D technology is a great tool to illustrate what it will look like. During the Tate II project, we have used 3D extensively, and at a very early stage, we had a 3D model of the basic design to show the complex geometry of the building," he explains.

Created in the year 2000 from a disused power station in the heart of London, Tate Modern displays the national collection of international modern art. The success of the gallery has now led to an impressive extension project. Anton Sawicki has been involved in the extension of Tate Modern in London for several years:

"When involved in cultural projects, it is important that you see it through all the way. In these buildings, a lot of details are important to the end user experience, so every single detail has to turn out as it was planned."

Ramboll's site engineer on Tate in dialogue with International Director of Arts and Culture, Anton Sawicki

A close partnership

So how did Anton Sawicki get involved in the cultural building sector?

"I have always had an interest in art. When I got involved in the Hepworth Wakefield project, it was really a turning point for me," he explains. Located on former industrial land beside the River Calder, The Hepworth Wakefield is part of a programme of regeneration in the area. Completed in 2009, it has already received several awards and recognitions. Anton Sawicki explains that there are really two customers in these types of projects; the customer and owner of the building, but you really have to see the architect as a customer too, and try to realise their aspirations.

"During the Hepworth Wakefield project, we came up with an innovative concrete solution that was an evolution on from the original, concrete-framed structure that had been proposed. We suggested using pigmented self-compacting concrete, which had never been used before in the UK. It was a more cost effective option, but also, I think, aesthetically quite interesting, because it has a sculptural look and feel. The architect got really enthusiastic about this and we ended up going to Switzerland to look at some examples of this technique, as it was used there. It was great to be able to look at various options and discuss alternatives together. That's what I love about these projects. Working together, coming up with innovative solutions. This is what really drives me and the design forward."

And of course, it is not only about collaboration with the customer and architect. It takes a strong and focused team effort within Ramboll too.

Creating new dimensions

But do we really need these highbrow places to visit just for the fun of it? Anton Sawicki explains the value of cultural buildings in the following way:

"Cultural buildings add another dimension to the area they are placed in. There’s something you can’t quantify about the value these spaces bring to peoples’ lives. How can you measure the impact of witnessing a great work of art? We don’t create these spaces solely for economic or strategic purposes, though of course these are important. We create them because they provide access to an experience that is absolutely essential to city life".

Over the past 15 years, there has been a focused effort to encourage people's interest in art in the UK. A lot of initiatives and investments were made, and this has sparked an interest in the cultural sector.


The Hepworth Wakefield is among the UK's largest art galleries outside London. Click for a detailed view. Image: Jaap Oepkes

Strategic use of cultural planning

So what are the wider thoughts about the strategic use of cultural planning? May Lisbeth Hølen Balkøy, Director for the Development department at Statsbygg, the Norwegian national planning authority, explains:

"As the knowledge-based society emerges, culture gets a new and more central role than previously, and there is a need for more research, experimentation and learning. Statsbygg uses cultural planning as a part of the work to map cultural historic buildings, to show possible stakeholders possibilities for usage of these buildings."
One of the largest cultural building projects for Statsbygg is the new facilities for the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design: "The goal is to create a dynamic, national research and competence centre for the visual art forms. The societal function of the National museum is to strengthen the community memory," May Lisbeth Hølen Balkøy says.

"The museum has to reach a broad spectrum of users and through its functioning increase the knowledge about and the commitment to visual art, develop the critical faculty, stimulate new realisations and create an increased historic consciousness about and respect for diversity."

Ramboll is involved in this project as consulting engineer, and Anton Sawicki and his team in the UK are a part of the project team. The combination of our local, Norwegian engineers and international experience makes up a strong, multi-disciplinary team to deliver an outstanding result to the Norwegian public.


The Norwegian National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design. Click for a detailed view. Graphics: MIR Kommunikasjon and Statsbygg


Executive Director, Buildings
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