Moving Structures: Rotating Roof Cowls

SCX's expertise in kinetic architecture engineering enables the architect to imagine buildings that are no longer static and bound by traditional expectations.

These rotating cowls, engineered by SCX Special Projects, contribute towards the striking aesthetics of the ‘hubs’, designed by visionary architect Nigel Coates. But they're not just for show...

The Challenge

Completed in 2000, and designed originally as the National Centre for Popular Music, this Sheffield city centre development comprises four circular ‘hubs’ joined by a two-storey glass-roofed foyer.

The distinctive roof cowls were not only a striking design feature, they also housed an innovative cooling and ventilation concept. The stainless-steel clad cowls rotate to face the wind, channelling its power to increase the building’s ventilation efficiency and reduce power consumption.

The Solution

SCX Special Projects engineered the rotating mechanism on which the cowls turn, while also developing an automation system to sense wind direction and smoothly move the 10-tonne cowls into position. The system can synchronise the cowl positions to an accuracy of ±10mm.

In addition to this automatic operation, each cowl can be controlled completely independently, allowing for safer maintenance and repair access when required.

Movement in complete control

  • Each 10-tonne, 4-metre high roof cowl rotates around a 13.5-metre diameter radial beam
  • Accuracy in both the design and manufacturing processes ensures that the cowls move smoothly and silently throughout their full range of movement
  • Testing of both the rotating mechanism and its automation systems was performed at SCX’s facilities in Sheffield


Checking the weather

  • A sensor detects wind direction, feeding data to the automation system so it can recalibrate the position of all
    four cowls
  • The cowls align directly into the flow of the wind, to within an accuracy of ±10mm, and manoeuvre smoothly and silently into position
  • This pioneering feature of kinetic architecture was the first of its kind in the world


Engineering innovation

  • The design of the ‘hubs’ gives each of the four roofs a tilt of approximately 4° towards the outer edges
  • This means that the cowls need to rotate through a slight incline, so four bogies – each powered by a separate motor – provide sufficient torque and braking to overcome the gradient
  • A centrally mounted slip ring is used to supply power and control to each of the motors, enabling infinite rotation of the cowls


Let's talk more about kinetic architecture

We make the architect's vision of moving structures a reality. We make things move. And safely, too.

We have decades of experience in creating moving structures, from gates to bridges, to roofs to entire football pitches. Talk to us today.

Call us on +44 114 262 6199, email us at, or complete the contact form below and we'll be in touch.

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SCX Special Projects Ltd

Roman Ridge Road, Sheffield, S9 1GA, United Kingdom

t:  +44 (0)114 262 6199