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SSDA 2008 – Constructionarium Mini-Gherkin, Norfolk

A miniature version of London’s Swiss Re building is a unique structure and recreates the atmosphere of working on a real construction project.

FACT FILE: Constructionarium Mini-Gherkin, Norfolk
Structural Engineer: Expedition Engineering
Steelwork contractor: Caunton Engineering Ltd
Main contractor: John Doyle Construction Ltd
Client: Imperial College London

The initiative to build the Constructionarium was originally pioneered in a joint venture between Imperial College London, Expedition Engineering and John Doyle Construction.

This higher education stratagem is also aimed at addressing the current shortfall in practical construction and design expertise among graduates, and attract prospective students by offering a more hands-on degree.

Constructionarium events are held at the National Construction College, the training division of ConstructionSkills, located at Bircham Newton in Norfolk.

The events generally last for a week and during June 2007 more than 80 students from Imperial College London worked on scaled down versions of real sites, including the Swiss Re building (London Gherkin).

The steel frame for the 10m-high Gherkin was fabricated and supplied by Caunton Engineering, with Expedition Engineering coordinating the design process. Allan Younger, Business Unit Manager for Caunton, says the entire structure consisted of more than 500 individual steel members with a combined weight of 5.5t.

To make sure all of this steel fitted together perfectly Caunton conducted a trial erection at its facility, before the steel was painted.

“Once painted we then delivered the steel to the College in a number of erectable packs to make it easier for the students to assemble,” explains Mr Younger.

The large scale of the project, by student standards, meant that students were faced with real issues of working with cranes, scaffolders and the need to get the first stage correct within the steel tolerances.

All of the steelwork for the mini-Gherkin is lightweight and consisted of 1.4m-long x 48mm diameter tubes for the external perimeter and an internal core made from 127mm x 76mm beams and columns.

Geoffrey Taylor, Caunton’s Marketing Director, says the project had some interesting symmetry as all the fabrication was done by the company’s apprentices. “Our academy initially fabricated all the steel so that other students could erect it at the Constructionarium. It all goes to show how the industry as a whole is involved in training.”

Caunton donated its steelwork to the Constructionarium and although the structure was dismantled at the end of the event’s week, it has been stored at the College and may be re-erected again at a later date.

Robin Holdsworth, Scheme Manager for Constructionarium, says: “The practical experience of working on site is invaluable for students. The scheme demonstrates how industry and academia are combining to combat the on-going shortage in construction and design expertise, and it provides our future construction managers with skills and experience.”

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