Architects to offer ‘second life’ to skyscrapers

Architects B + H have set up an operation in the Middle East with expertise in the field of prolonging the lives of tall buildings.

The company says that many skyscrapers in the region will soon need retro-fitting if they are to remain efficient into the coming decades.

And – working alongside engineers EllisDon – the Canada-based firm feels it can offer “a second life” to towers across the GCC.

Retro-fitting is a speciality of the business which recently bought First Canadian Place in Toronto, built in the mid ‘70s, into the 21st century by replacing marble panels with those made from glass.

Phillip Jones, B + H managing director, Middle East, said: “Our task was this. We had to re-clad a 298m tall skyscraper while ensuring the 30,000 office workers inside could carry out their work uninterrupted.”

The marble facade of the original structure was starting to chip and break while it was also extremely inefficient in energy wastage.

“The tower was built in 1975 when cheap fuel was still available,” said Jones. “It was clad in white marble as that is the branding colour of the Bank of Montreal, whose headquarters it was – there is a lot of ego in the design of any tall building.

“That marble needed replacing and the client thought that if such a major task was to be undertaken they should get more out of it in the form of other restorative work. So we replaced the entire façade.

“When it was completed the building was 40% more energy efficient as leakage of air had been drastically reduced.”

The company turned to fellow Canadian firm EllisDon – the company behind Toronto’s SkyDome the first retractable-rooftop stadium in the world- and a novel approach was pioneered.

Wissam Ayoub, EllisDon vice president, Middle East, explains: “We designed a platform which had three levels and could slowly be winched down the building from the top, an apparatus similar to that used by window cleaners, but on a much larger scale.

“Once the rig was in the required position it could be bolted to the steel frame of the building. The platform could contain 80 workers and we had three shifts with most of the noisier work taking place at night.”

Workers on the bottom level took the marble off and as the platform was lowered those on the middle level added in the necessary brackets and applied waterproofing. Then as the rig was lowered again the craftsmen on the third level put on the new curtain wall. This process was repeated from top to bottom in a gradual descent, while waste material was taken away via a chute.

Jones says: “The project became the talk of the town in Toronto. You could see people standing on the street filming and the results went up on YouTube. I heard also that people in offices nearby took their coffee break at the window to watch what was going on.”

Ayoub feels the technology has great relevance to the Middle East.

“I can see the quality on some tall buildings is clearly not going to last 50 years from when they were put up, they will need to be retro-fitted,” he says.