If Victorian Gothic Revival is your thing, you could do a lot worse than feast your eyes on Manchester’s huge and ornate Town Hall.
Replacing an existing Regency town hall that the rapidly-developing industrial city had quickly outgrown, the new building was designed by Alfred Waterhouse (who also designed the Natural History Museum in London) and completed in 1877.
Waterhouse had won a design competition run by the client, Manchester Corporation, which demanded that the new Town Hall should be “equal, if not superior, to any similar building in the country at any cost which may be reasonably required”.
That cost turned out to be in the region of £1m – worth roughly £95m in today’s money.
In 2014, almost 140 years after its completion, Manchester Town Hall – now Grade I listed – was showing signs of age and was found to be in urgent need of repair and refurbishment. Manchester City Council chose Lendlease as its management contractor for the £330m project, working alongside the design team, led by architect Purcell. The role involves appointing and managing the numerous package contractors.
Given the scope of the works, access has been a crucial consideration. To deliver this package, Lendlease chose Lyndon SGB for scaffolding and its sister company, Taylor’s Hoists, for the mastclimbing platforms. According to SGB, this is currently the UK’s biggest single scaffolding contract.
The SGB name is of course well-known worldwide and it remains by far the largest scaffolding specialist in the UK. Nevertheless, despite the exceptional demands of this contract, Lyndon SGB was not an automatic choice, as the company’s managing director, Stuart Robinson, admits:
“I’m not aware of others in the marketplace who could deliver these solutions, but that doesn’t mean to say that we were Lendlease’s only option,” he says. “We can never assume that we are the only solution, and must always prove why we should be delivering a project, recognising that best value isn’t always the lowest price.”
Design work on the access solution got under way in early 2019 and was itself a major undertaking. Part of the US-owned Brand Safway group, SGB enlisted help from across the parent company. Four design engineers – one UK-based, one in Australia and two in the Netherlands –worked together to design the intricate solutions, with the temporary roof and complex sections being designed in 3D.
Installation of the access systems began in mid-2020. The majority of the scaffolding will remain in position throughout the renovation, which is scheduled for completion in December 2023. The scale of the contract is considerable and includes 34 chimneys, three main towers (the main Albert Square clock tower, Cooper Street tower and Princess Street spire) as well as all the façades.
Lyndon SGB has also installed vast temporary roofs covering all existing roofs and extending to more than 10,000m2 of weather protection. And there are hundreds of scaffold decks totalling 22,000m2 and multiple combined scaffold staircases totalling 450m in height.
The scaffolding erection is being carried out by more than 50 Lyndon SGB scaffolders, working on more than 200 scaffold structures – independents, birdcages, beam sections, staircases, chimney scaffolds, and temporary roofing – with a total weight of approximately 3,700 tonnes.
The installation includes an independent access scaffold around the entire perimeter that is two bays wide from the building face. The inner bay forms the working platform and the outer bay acts as a supporting buttress. All the vertical ledger bracing is fitted within the outer bay to allow the inner working bay to remain braceless, thus offering unrestricted access to the façade for all trades.
In addition to the outer perimeter, there are also three courtyards within the building complex. Here, SGB has erected birdcage scaffolds giving access to all elevations, as well as a fully-decked top platform at a height of 25m. In total, these courtyard scaffolds fill a space of approximately 19,500m3.
One of the most complex elements of the contract is the scaffold for the main clock tower, rising to a height of 87m above Albert Square. When completed, this scaffold will comprise 40 lifts. Fifteen of these clock tower lifts are supported from a complex beam arrangement to the perimeter spanning over the roof of the main building. These in turn are supported by heavy-duty towers to the four corners, each supporting a load of approximately 300kN.
To minimise the need for manual handling at height, SGB assembled the beam sections for each elevation at ground level and craned them into position. Each section is made up of eight lines of beams spanning 15m and weighing four tonnes.
The access scaffold to the spire on top of the clock tower will be built to the profile of the spire, which is an octagonal cone, in order to reduce wind loadings on the building. This is a very complex scaffold to design, and SGB says the assembly will be carried out by a team of its most experienced scaffolders.
Work on the Manchester Town Hall project was already well underway in June 2020 when Robinson joined Lyndon SGB from Mace, where he had worked on international projects for the previous 15 years. He took over from Rob Lynch, who had been with SGB for 20 years.
“Mid-2020 was relatively soon after the purchase of Lyndon Scaffolding by Brand Safway and not long after the first Covid lockdown. I had no previous experience of leading through either situation and therefore felt that if nothing else it would be interesting and, without doubt, a personal challenge,” comments Robinson.
“My background also includes roles in client-side programme and project management, so moving to a subcontractor feels like ticking the final box in the supply chain,” he says. “My prior experience certainly gives me a better insight into what it is that our clients are looking for, but more importantly I feel my experience gives me credibility within my own team,” adds Robinson.