A 'tower of light' set to rise in Manchester

Nick Myall
Tuesday 05 Dec 2017

Tonkin Liu has won the design competition for an energy centre tower and facade in Manchester

Tonkin Liu has won a competition for a 40 m flue tower and a facade enclosing the new Vital Energi CHP Energy Centre. The project will be a permanent addition to Manchester’s skyline and streetscape. Four architecture practices, Tonkin Liu, Hawkins Brown, Barfield and Marks, and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, were shortlisted to submit designs as part of a competition to ensure the energy centre and tower structure would be a positive addition to Manchester’s Civic Quarter.

After presentations were made to a panel made up of council representatives and relevant experts including past RIBA president Stephen Hodder, the design, “Tower of Light,” by Tonkin Liu and structural engineers Arup was chosen. Tonkin Liu and Arup are now working closely with Vital Energi team and the Manchester City Council project team to deliver the scheme.

Within the immediate surrounding context of exemplar engineering projects of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Tower of Light will be an exemplar 21st century structure for Manchester. It is an ultra-lightweight, vertical single surface structure whose form is its strength, using the least material to achieve the most.

Made from tailored 3-8mm thick laser-cut sheets that are then curved and welded together to create a stiff strong surface, the biomimetic structure will support the 37m tall chimneys from the base of the new energy centre. It will be the latest evolution in Shell Lace Structure, a pioneering and innovative structural technique developed over eight years of design-led research by Tonkin Liu, in collaboration with engineers from Arup.

Minimal energy is used to light the tower. During the day, polished reflectors moving in the wind reflect sunlight into the tower’s chambers, to animate the structure with everchanging moving light. During the night, LED lights directed at the reflectors create moving light. Programmed seasonal and everyday lighting is being developed and refined in collaboration with specialist consultant Seam. An undulating white brick wall with integrated lighting forms the street façade, resonating the tower’s form at the scale of a hand.

The Tower of Light captures the energy of the sky to make an enduring and animated symbol of our time. By using solar and wind power, the sculptural landmark celebrates Manchester’s low-carbon ambition and Climate Change Action Plan.

Nick Myall

News editor

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