Sir Robert McAlpine’s glorious renovation of the iconic Elizabeth Tower in Westminster is the deserved winner of the digital construction project of the year accolade – sponsored by Revizto – for 2023, announced at the Digital Construction Awards last night (4 July).
Anyone passing through Westminster in recent years could not fail to spot that one of its most famous landmarks was undergoing a major facelift.
After 160 years of pollution, weather and war damage, the Elizabeth Tower was in urgent need of an upgrade, and Sir Robert McAlpine was brought in to carry out extensive conservation work – underpinned by an incredibly complex and rigorous BIM strategy.
The five-year programme of work was the largest in the tower’s history and included repairing and redecorating the cast iron roof, clock faces and high-level metalwork, repairing stonework and a comprehensive systems overhaul.
The BIM strategy had two key objectives: creation of a reliable digital asset register with both new and existing building fabric elements, plus creation of an asset information model for FM purposes on completion.
Using drones and a point cloud survey, McAlpine’s team were able to build a detailed model of the tower and capture information about individual assets in the façade and roof.
‘Sir Robert McAlpine demonstrated use of different technologies to enable a complex restoration with reduced risks, and provided comprehensive data for both the project team and client’
There are 3,433 components in the roof, all unique, and due to their condition, it became clear that each one would have to be removed and taken off-site for restoration. McAlpine picked software provider Zutec to create a digital register to track assets as they moved through the construction process: removal, restoration off-site, then reinstallation. A dashboard collecting live data allowed the team to understand the works as they progressed.
The project required a complicated temporary works solution, with the whole tower cocooned in a 98m scaffold, which took six months to erect. This structure, on a site with a footprint of only 15m2 and sandwiched between a busy road junction and Parliament, was designed in 3D prior to its assembly using McAlpine’s in-house design team and their scaffolding supplier PHD Access.
On completion, McAlpine handed over the asset information models with COBie data, which cover the existing fabric and new maintainable assets that have been incorporated as part of the comprehensive systems reservicing. This will contribute to the eventual digital twin of the Palace of Westminster estate.
The knowledge gathered through McAlpine’s project work has been widely shared on industry forums including CIOB and BIM4Heritage and will inform BIM use on other conservation schemes.
Charlotte Claughton, senior project leader at UK Parliament Strategic Estates, Cristina Ruiz Nolasco, senior digital construction manager at Sir Robert McAlpine, and Andrew Dobson, partner at Purcell Architects, said: “We didn’t expect to win. It’s a great surprise that a heritage project has won a digital award. I think it speaks of the ingenuity of the digital and data that we employed as part of the project.
"It’s been unique and a learning curve for everyone – the client, the design team, and the trades. We’ve got now a good record of repairs that can be used for future works and refurbishment of the Houses of Parliament.”
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