Looking After our Pillows
Initial Concept Designs Credit: Grimshaw Architects

Looking After our Pillows

21/05/2020Written by Malika Andress

Last week we had a deflating situation at the Centre.

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The last thing our Head of Technical Services wanted at 08:00 on a Monday morning is a call to say the Rocket Tower had started to deflate.
Credit: Paul Mowbray

But that is exactly the call our General Manager had to make and our Head of Technical Services, Graham, launched into action and a plan was put in place.

When looking at working with external supplies creating an environment of safety is always important and never more has that been the case than at this point in time.

If you have to maintain social distancing the first people on the scene were able to guarantee this, as they arrived with a platform lift that could ensure our key worker, Graham, and the crane operator were working at distances over 40m apart.

Elev8, who operate a national fleet of MEWPs (Mobile Elevating Working Platforms), helped us diagnose the issue, which was not an external split, as was first supposed, but one of the internal air pipes that feed the pillows had perished, so the deflation was due to natural ageing of the structure.

The crane was still put to good use, as we were able to carry out our scheduled yearly tower inspection, so the timing was actually fortuitous.

Initial concept designs Credit: Grimshaw Architects

Graham’s next call was to the Ninjas! Yes, we really do work with Ninjas. OK, so they’re not real ninja’s per se, but access is definitely their thing. Ninja Access use IRATA industrial rope access methods to safely reach areas that would otherwise prove difficult.

The Ninjas were on site within an hour of our call and using rigging points inside the Rocket Tower they were able to assist with the diagnosis and repair of the problem.

The team were able to action a repair, working with experts in their field to develop a new way of working, that ensures the safety of the individuals, but also achieves the objective of keeping our building working during lockdown.

The Rocket Tower

The Rocket Tower
Credit: Paul Mowbray

The skin of our Rocket Tower is constructed of ETFE, a multilayer, thin, translucent foil that is stretched over a lightweight steel frame and inflated for rigidity.

The initial brief for the Rocket Tower was to create a space to house some of the major artefacts in the collections, but also to design an awe-inspiring structure, that reflected the futuristic feel of space exploration.

“The tower was a serious learning experience covering issues such as heat loss / heat gain, insulation, solar protection, wind chill factors, skin reflectivity and absorption, rain screen and weather protection, energy generation by solar cells, etc.” Sir Nicholas Grimshaw

Due to the transparent nature of the ETFE structure, the Rocket Tower uses sunlight to manage the temperature inside. However, during the development phase the team from ARUP modelled heat gain and looked at ways to mitigate overheating, which saw the inclusion of high and low level louvre windows, that work automatically to manage the temperature safely, for the benefit of the visitor, exhibition and artefacts.