WICONA unitised curtain walling specified for 18-storey tower - the most complex site in Manchester

Unitised curtain walling from Wicona Projects has been specified for a landmark 18-storey office tower in the centre of Manchester – believed to be the most complex building site in the city.

Unitised curtain walling from Wicona Projects has been specified for a landmark 18-storey office tower in the centre of Manchester – believed to be the most complex building site in the city.

The unitised façade is being designed and overseen by Wicona Projects and fabricated by Norking Aluminium in a £3.2m contract.

Developed by the award-winning Property Alliance Group and constructed by Russells Construction, the £17m AXIS project is one of the largest ever speculative developments in Manchester.

Designed by HKR Architects and due for completion towards the end of 2009, the iconic scheme will provide around 72,000sqft of office space in a fully glazed tower, offering stunning 360˚ panoramic views across the city.

The building occupies a highly constrained and challenging site, close to tram lines and railway tracks and oversailing two busy highways and the Bridgewater Canal.  The specification of a unitised solution for the project will eliminate the need for scaffolding and the storage of cladding materials and glass handling on site – a major advantage for restricted city centre sites. This has allowed the floor plate of the building to be maximised whilst meeting the architects’ requirements for a highly glazed, transparent tower.

More than 4,600sqm of Wicona’s unitised curtain walling will be manufactured off site by Norking and installed using a mono-rail system for the faster completion of a watertight envelope to each floor and earlier fitting out.  This will reduce the time on site by around 40 per cent.

The façade will be structurally bonded to achieve a frameless appearance and allow uninterrupted views from the new offices.  The Wicona solution will carry high performance solar control glass to flood the interior with natural light, and vertical recessed aluminium panels in varying widths and spanning up to two storeys – 7.4m high, will create a sense of dynamism and movement across two elevations.

Commenting on the choice of unitised curtain walling for this scheme, Phil Jay, Project Manager at Russells Construction, said, “A unitised façade was our only option because the site has no access and so scaffolding is impossible.  It also allows the curtain walling to be completed off site, which speeds up installation.  This reduces time on site which is more cost efficient.”

Paul Norbury, Project Architect at HKR Architects, said, “Unitised curtain walling was the only solution for this project.  The approach really lends itself to tall buildings and difficult city centre sites such as this.”

“The Wicona system will carry double height spans of recessed aluminium panels, which are technically challenging.  It also gave us the design flexibility to specify structurally bonded glazing and create a slick, sheer envelope for building.  The glazing is floor to floor, with no caps or spandrel panels, giving the building a full height taught skin.”

Other architectural features of this striking building include an illuminated plant room on the 18th floor to give the tower a glowing ‘top hat’ effect, and a large external roof terrace.  The scheme will also feature the world’s largest single advertising space – a 51m high LED screen to display campaigns for the council, building occupiers and other advertisers.

The advantages of the unitised approach include significant reductions in programme time, improved site safety, earlier fitting out and a faster return on investment for the developer.  The quality and performance of the façade panels are high because the units are completed off site in a controlled factory environment.  Panel sizes of up to 4m x 4m can easily be accommodated, there are cost savings on site preliminaries and scaffolding, and constrained sites can be developed whilst maximising the building footprint.

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