The Queen’s Tower, the last remaining structure of the Imperial Institute, stands as a testament to history in the heart of Imperial College, South Kensington, London. As the 287-foot iconic tower undergoes extensive restoration, Hertfordshire-based JDC Scaffolding Ltd has been entrusted with providing complex, safe and efficient scaffolding solutions for the project in collaboration with Russell Cawberry Ltd, the main contractor.
“The tower represents a significant part of Imperial College’s history, and we are honoured to be a part of this prestigious project,” said Phil Welham, Business Development Director at JDC Scaffolding. “Our design process began in late 2020, with ongoing collaboration with Imperial College and RDG Engineering to provide a safe and innovative scaffolding system for the restoration works.”
The initial design included a 2-tonne Passenger/Goods Hoist, a full-height Haki Staircase, and a suspended access scaffold that followed the profile of the copper dome that tops the tower. However, due to concerns about the tower’s fragility, RDG Engineering was tasked with creating a freestanding structure, an external “Exoskeleton” scaffold, to surround the tower.
“Developing the exoskeleton was a unique challenge,” explained Welham. “It needed to be designed to minimise the impact on the tower itself and provide the necessary support for the independent scaffold, hoist, and staircase.”
The exoskeleton includes triple standards to the 30.00m level, double standards to the 50.00m level and single standards to the 87.00m level. Every pair of standards is ledger braced, each horizontal bay plan braced, and every vertical bay sway braced to both the internal and external faces.
The design and planning process included a series of collaborative Teams meetings with Imperial College’s independent consulting engineer, RDG Engineering, and JDC Scaffolding to ensure all stakeholders were aligned in their understanding of the project’s complexities and requirements.
After several iterations, the final design incorporated a temporary circular roof, back propping in the vaults, and a full-height hoist run-off with staggered exits. The scaffold’s required equipment amounted to an incredible 300,000 feet of tube and around 92,000 fittings.
Russell Cawberry Ltd, who have worked with the Imperial College across all their campus and sites for over twenty years, were awarded the Queen’s Tower contract in August 2022. Having never worked with JDC Scaffolding Ltd before, Russell Cawberry Ltd were convinced of JDC’s expertise and experience after a series of negotiations, due diligence, and their long-standing knowledge of the project.
The project has had its fair share of challenges, including protecting the York Stone steps surrounding the tower and navigating the complexities of working on a live college campus. “Our priority is to maintain the highest standards of safety and minimise disruption to the college community,” said Welham. “Prior to commencement, there were discussions about basing the scaffold on the existing York Stone steps. One option was to take up the paving, this option was dismissed, and we were asked to cover the steps completely with a protection system made up of Dow Floormate 700 sandwiched between two layers of ply.”
As the scaffold erection progresses, JDC Scaffolding have been working closely with Russell Cawberry Ltd and Imperial College to address any unforeseen challenges and to ensure smooth communication between all parties involved. This collaborative approach has proven to be a key factor in the project’s success thus far.
The team at JDC Scaffolding are now looking forward to tackling the challenges associated with restoring the copper dome that tops the tower and providing temporary roof protection. The back propping works in the basement, which were carried out under confined space restrictions, have been successfully completed, paving the way for the scaffold’s continued erection.
Upon completion, the revitalised Queen’s Tower will stand as a beacon of Imperial College’s illustrious history, exemplifying progress, innovation, and the unyielding pursuit of knowledge. With the combined expertise of JDC Scaffolding, RDG Engineering and Russell Cawberry Ltd, this ambitious project promises to breathe new life into a cherished landmark, ensuring that it continues to inspire future generations of scholars and visitors alike.
And as the restoration journey unfolds, the collaborative efforts of all parties involved will stand as a testament to the power of teamwork, engineering prowess, and a shared commitment to preserving our rich cultural heritage.
This article was originally published in Issue 19 of the ScaffMag magazine.