(Image credit KPF)

Member Ed Moseley has been a practising structural engineer for 17 years. Here he discusses his work on the Southbank Tower in London - an 11-storey extension to a 1970s office tower which has created new apartments overlooking the River Thames. The project has been shortlisted in the “Community or Residential” category.

My decision to choose engineering as a career was a gradual progression, part of learning to understand what was important to me and what I enjoyed. I grew up in a rural area and spent the occasional summer working in construction, plus some time helping my dad build a barn, a fence, a trailer etc. Coupled with my enjoyment of problem solving, engineering seemed a good fit for me. During my degree in General Engineering at Warwick University I gravitated towards structural and civil engineering, as I grew to appreciate its potential to better society and people’s enjoyment of life.

It would be easy to name various luminaries from the industry who have inspired me, but in reality the biggest influences have been people I’ve worked with -  Jonathan Hendricks from Yolles, Ron Packman, Albert Taylor and Hanif Kara, to name but a few. I’ve been lucky to have a wonderfully varied career, so it’s hard to pinpoint one outstanding project that I’ve worked on. It’s one of the perks of a career as a structural engineer that each year gets better. 

The Southbank Tower project has probably been my toughest technical challenge to date, and its successful completion is certainly one of my career highlights. I have worked on several high rise developments, and I’m looking at some more now at AKT II, but this project was considerably more challenging.

The biggest challenge was developing our understanding of the building, its opportunities and its limitations. We overcame this by going through the drawings, analysing the structure and then going through the drawings again. It was a process. The only really technical challenge we set ourselves was to control the movements in the new steel levels at the top of the tower, given the very thin structural zone. This required a coordinated sequence of pre-loading and tying elements to achieve the final design.

As much of the works were taking place at the same time (a ‘multi-focal’ approach) it was also a big challenge to co-ordinate between the various teams on site. It was a lot of hard work, but through constant, efficient communication we made it a success.

(Images credit: AKTII)

It is quite unusual to add storeys to an existing tower, but the considerations aren’t too different to any structural engineering project: You assess what the structure is founded on, how to build it, how it will behave and what it is trying to achieve. The difference here was that instead of a traditional foundation we needed to complete a detailed analysis of the existing structure to identify opportunities and potential structural strategies. A lot of the original design deserves admiration - for its time it was very advanced, coordinated well with the architectural ambition. The quality of the workmanship was outstanding, as the durability of the structure shows. 

Adapting our existing building stock in this way will have to become more common practice. The more we do it the more we should develop the sophistication of our approach, and increase our ability to judge the potential of sites. The industry’s focus should swing towards the assessment of the embodied energy in our existing building stock and how best to preserve it - we should encourage this process through initiatives like Breeam credits, commercial incentives and planning recognition.

This project addresses the issue of working in an already developed urban environment, which is one of the challenges our industry will have to address if we are going to be able to deliver what our cities need, without wasting the energy that has already gone into them. And, if you view this project as a response to that challenge, I think it’s a fairly good one.   

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(Image credit: Mike O'Dwyer)

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