Working with world renowned architects and being able to participate in the execution of their works, oftentimes bound to forever change the skyline of the cities that will host them, is a one-of-a-kind experience. To turn the ideas and vision of the best architects in the world into reality, the Permasteelisa Group can rely on an outstanding work team from the very early stages of a project, along with design and engineering, and then stride through all the stages of the project until the installation; a complex business model, coordinated and monitored by the Project Manager, the true deus-ex-machina of the project.
A work team that is common to each of the 50 companies of the Group over 4 continents, all capable of collaborating, knowing that they can rely on the same procedures and technological solution. A teamwork that today is well represented by two projects located in two of the most avant-garde neighborhoods in the world: Battersea Power Station Redevelopment in London and Hudson Yards in New York.
Battersea Power Station PH.1
A few years ago on the other side of the River Thames, south of London’s elegant neighbourhood of Chelsea witnessed the first phase of the huge redevelopment of Battersea Power Station complex: the Circus West Village (RS1A) project (Client: Battersea Power Station Development Company, Main Contractor: Carillion Construction, Architects: SimpsonHaugh and Partners). It is a project which I had privilege to manage as Project Director for the Permasteelisa Group, a major challenge as potentially a forerunner for the acquisition of the subsequent phases of what will soon become London’s most luxurious district, the new icon of the city. As a result, the project team was carefully selected and witnessed, as actors, some of the best Design/ Project/Site Managers and Engineers within the Group.
The residential complex (RS1A) comprises 753 flats, offices, shops, bars, restaurants and leisure facilities that branch out in seven blocks that are interconnected to form a building up to 17-storeys high and 327-metres long characterised by an unusual plan that thins out to the south and borders the famous Power Station to the west.
The main façade is a double skin, i.e. an internal glass envelope comprising of fixed and sliding modules, and an external glazed envelope also made up of an alternation of fixed and sliding modules. A winter garden is therefore resulting in the gap between the two layers creating an external, though protected, extension of the living area that, this way, can offer a daily relaxation area. At the same time, the privacy and protection from solar glare are guaranteed by elements that are accurately designed and constructed, such as solar shadings in custom-made extruded aluminium that are conceived in sliding modules to better adapt to the needs of the buildings occupants.
Glass plays an essential role in achieving the architectural intent of transparency, a transparency that is not static but plays with volumes thanks to the openings of the external skin that create an empty-full movement which becomes dynamic thanks to the daily use of residents; a play of volumes stressed by the design of the façade on three different layers – external skin, juliet balcony and internal skin.
This was the façade in the limelight, the façade that was the protagonist of them all, as the accurate and stringent specifications imposed by the architects and the final client indeed determined the development of ad hoc solutions in terms of technology and design.
The dynamism of the huge complex, boasting a total surface of over 90,000 sq. m, is also the result of its overall geometry, made up of broken lines, where the projecting and receding volumes alternate giving rise to horizontal glass and metal bands that act in turn as roofs, terraces and ceilings. On the other hand, the vertical movement stems from the steel and glass atrium and the glazed fissures that unfold from one block to another.
The main challenges faced by the team were the multiplicity of the solutions adopted, due to the special geometry of the project and scarce repetitiveness of the modules and the consequent management of huge quantities, combined with a very compressed installation time-frame that influenced the entire project in all its phases. This led to the need for courageous project management choices, such as the careful choice of suppliers from all over Europe that were required to work
in parallel to guarantee compliance with the deadlines of the project, and to be constantly monitored to guarantee the overall quality of the material supplied. Likewise, it was crucial to be able to rely on the support of a global Group such as Permasteelisa that simultaneously put production sites and engineering offices into operation in different countries; a unique feature that distinguishes Permasteelisa from its competitors.
Another key element was the logistics of transport and storage; in fact, the site was organised in such a way that materials had to be carried to the various storeys according to a “just in time” schedule. This entailed the use of a huge external warehouse that had to be organised according to a detailed schedule to allow for a relatively lean management of the withdrawal of the various components (unitized curtain wall, sliding elements, special material, etc.) according to the site needs. In addition, the lay-out of the flats and the size of the façade elements required in-depth studies to identify the best routes, within the various storeys, to move the material from the landing point to the pre-assembly and installation area.
The installation was undoubtedly challenging; this is the stage which brings together the results of all the choices made and where adrenaline flows abundantly at least until the first elements of the façade are installed and approved by the architects. Also, it has been very complex to manage a construction site that was actually seven sites at the same time, where basically seven buildings were being installed simultaneously. Subdivided into blocks and storeys, the installation was executed according to very precise sequences and instructions, where each work team, supported by supervisors and quality controllers, carried out their activities in a synchronised manner.
Among the nicest things, I recall the collaboration and the synergy with and between the technical office and the site office, and within the team made up of colleagues spread across Italy, Croatia, Holland and UK; teamwork that turned out to be crucial for the successful outcome of the works.
30 Hudson Yards Storefront (Hudson Yards – Tower A)
In New York, in the west side of Manhattan, looking over the River Hudson, we find the new quarter of Hudson Yard, built over the railway tracks within a stone’s throw of the High Line. The entire development will incorporate residential buildings, offices, commercial spaces, parks, roads and public services in a single huge complex. It is in this area, between 10th Avenue and 33rd Street, that we find another project to which I had the pleasure to manage as Project Manager for Permasteelisa: Hudson Yards Tower A – Storefronts (Client: Related Companies, General Contractor: Tishman Construction, Architects: Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates), a small jewel for its architectural elegance and the high quality requested.
Features of the overall project are the complexity of the geometry of the various facades, that required numerous and in-depth 3-D studies to define and develop the hidden substructures, structures and aesthetic claddings. The management of this project was an extremely intense and particular experience, a true personal enrichment: each element supplied is so specific, that the engineering, production, quality control and management phases had to be more than ever something unique and inescapable. And they were. The study of logistics is also worth noting as, being the project was made up of special elements produced in Europe, they were to be collected by truck, in the planned timeframe, loaded onto containers and shipped by sea; from the port of New York then they had to be transported by truck to a temporary storage area in New Jersey, then picked up and finally transported to the building site for the “just in time” installation by our US colleagues. In NYC just like in London, in accordance with the planned timeframe, one must also always take account of the chaos of the big city and local regulations, that turn every location into a challenge within a challenge.
Worthy of particular attention is the northwest façade of the Storefronts, a stick system in which a very complex glass & steel structure rises up with every element which is installed according to exacting schemes and tolerances. The custom made mullions used are of handsatin stainless steel with ‘T’ section; up to almost 20-metres long, they are made exclusively through joints welded in the factory (which remain invisible) and carried over from the other side of the Ocean via exceptional transportation using individually sized iron and wood cages.
Once at the site, the satin-finished mullions were handled and lifted according to precise instructions defined by the project engineer in order to avoid deformations that might have jeopardised their aesthetics, and then connected to hidden carbon steel mullions through bolted connections which enabled them to reach their maximum length of about 25 metres. The transoms are made up of screenprinted glass fins, connected to the mullions through stainless steel “shoes” that, according to the architects’ will, besides bracing the façade, give it an undeniably streamlined appearance.
Another special feature of this façade is the inward inclination of its central section, where in the entrance area the mullions connect with a portal also made entirely of welded and hand satin-finished stainless steel. To better explain the level of complexity of the welded elements it is worth noting that some of the welds of the stainless steel structures required up to three days of execution each, followed by the shaving phase, the controls and the final satin finishing were carried out in several steps. Each of these elements was produced according to stringent specifications and quality controls carried out by the Quality Inspectors of Permasteelisa and the Client’s consultant.
The façade glasses are structurally sealed in place on their vertical sides, whilst laterally stainless steel panels – in Linen finish – clad the canopies to the west and to the north, interrupting the verticality of the glazing. A further note of complexity, besides the dimensions, the geometry of the elements and the stringent tolerances, is represented by the fact that the entire façade is in fact hung on the fourth floor. This entailed the need to carry out considerable engineering, logistics and laying studies.
Lastly, among the features of the Hudson Yards Tower A Storefronts is the canopy located to the north-east, consisting of shaped panels in satin-finish stainless steel studied using 3-D modelling, that envelope the structure and then continue on, in the central part, inside the entrance façade, as well as the east, north and west sides of the building that features another steel-and-glass stick-system facade made up of “T”-shaped transoms (again custom-made in satin finish stainless steel) on which the glass panels are structurally sealed on site. The vertical deflection of the transoms, essentially given by the weight of the elements, is limited at the centre by a special full-height stainless steel tie rod that besides dampening out the vertical forces at the top of the main structure, adds aesthetic value as well as lightness and verticality to the façade. In this case too, stainless steel panels characterise the shaped framed of the visual part and crown the upper blind area of the façade.
This article was originally published in IGS Magazine’s Autumn 2019 Issue: Read the full Magazine here for more thought-leadership from those spearheading the industry
Author: Elena Zanette is a civil engineer graduated in Padua, Italy. After working in the technical field and as project engineer, undertakes the management career, as Project Manager and Project Director following several projects particularly in the UK for Permsteelisa