If Victorian Gothic Revival is your thing, you could do a lot worse than feast your eyes on the huge and ornate Manchester Town Hall.
Replacing an existing Regency Town Hall which the rapidly developing industrial city had rapidly overtaken, the new building was designed by Alfred Waterhouse (who also designed London’s Natural History Museum) and completed in 1877.
Waterhouse had won a design competition organized by the client, Manchester Corporation, which required the new Town Hall to be “equal, if not superior, to any similar building in the country at any price reasonably required”.
This cost turned out to be in the region of £1 million, or around £95 million in today’s money.
In 2014, almost 140 years after its completion, Manchester Town Hall – now Grade I listed – showed signs of aging and was in dire need of repairs and renovations. Manchester City Council has chosen Lendlease as the managing contractor for the £330million project, working alongside the design team, led by architect Purcell. The role is to appoint and manage the many flat rate contractors.
Given the scale of the work, access was a critical consideration. To supply this package, Lendlease chose Lyndon SGB for the scaffolding and its sister company, Taylor’s Hoists, for the mast platforms. According to SGB, this is currently the largest scaffolding contract in the UK.
The SGB name is of course known worldwide and remains by far the largest scaffolding specialist in the UK. Nevertheless, despite the exceptional requirements of this contract, Lyndon SGB was not an automatic choice, as the company’s managing director, Stuart Robinson admits:
“I don’t know of others in the market who could provide these solutions, but that doesn’t mean we were Lendlease’s only option,” he says. “We can never assume we are the only solution and must always prove why we should deliver a project, recognizing that the best value is not always the lowest price.”
Design work on the access solution began in early 2019 and was itself a major undertaking. Part of the American group Brand Safway, SGB enlisted the help of the entire parent company. Four design engineers – one based in the UK, one in Australia and two in the Netherlands – worked together to design the complex solutions, with the temporary roof and intricate sections being designed in 3D.
The installation of access systems began in mid-2020. The majority of the scaffolding will remain in place throughout the renovation, which is expected to be completed in December 2023. The scale of the contract is considerable and includes 34 chimneys, three main towers (the main Albert Square clock tower, the Cooper Street Tower and Princess Spire Street Tower) as well as all facades.
Lyndon SGB also installed extensive temporary roofs covering all existing roofs and extending over 10,000m2 of weather protection. And there are hundreds of scaffolding decks totaling 22,000m2 and multiple combined scaffolding stairs totaling 450m in height.
Scaffold erection is carried out by over 50 Lyndon SGB scaffolders, working on over 200 scaffold structures – freestanding, birdcages, beam sections, stairs, chimney scaffolds and temporary roofing – with a total weight of about 3,700 tons.
The facility includes full perimeter independent access scaffolding 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 vertical bracing of the stringers are installed in the outer bay to allow the inner working bay to remain unbraced, providing unrestricted access to the facade for all trades.
In addition to the outer perimeter, there are also three courtyards within the building complex. Here, SGB erected birdcage scaffolding providing access to all elevations, as well as a fully decked upper platform at a height of 25m. In total, these courtyard scaffoldings fill a space of approximately 19,500 m3.
One of the most complex elements of the contract is the scaffolding for the main clock tower, which rises 87m above Place Albert. When completed, this scaffolding will include 40 lifts. Fifteen of these clock tower elevators are supported by an intricate arrangement of beams to the perimeter spanning the roof of the main building. These in turn are supported by sturdy towers at the four corners, each supporting a load of approximately 300 kN.
To minimize the need for manual overhead handling, SGB assembled the beam sections for each ground level elevation and craned them into place. Each section is made up of eight rows of beams 15 m long and weighing 4 tonnes.
The spire access scaffolding at the top of the clock tower will be constructed to the profile of the spire, which is an octagonal cone, to reduce wind loads on the building. This is very complex scaffolding to design, and SGB says 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 succeeded Rob Lynch, who had worked for SGB for 20 years.
“Mid-2020 was relatively soon after Brand Safway’s purchase of Lyndon Scaffolding and shortly after the first Covid lockdown. I had no previous experience in either of these situations and so I felt it would be at least interesting and definitely a personal challenge,” comments Robinson.
“My background also includes roles in client-side program and project management, so going to a contractor is like ticking the last box in the supply chain,” he says. “My previous experience certainly gives me a better idea of what our clients are looking for, but more importantly, I think my experience gives me credibility within my own team,” adds Robinson.