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Regeneration seminars stress importance of 'knowing the building'

Manchester Museum of Science and IndustryMore than 90 delegates attended a day of seminars on Regenerating Historic Buildings at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester at the end of April.

The event, staged by TRADA Technology, brought together structural engineers, architects, surveyors, conservation officers, local authorities and university lecturers.

A common thread running though the day’s presentations was the need for a thorough understanding of the building under refurbishment.
Alasdair Beale of consulting engineers Thomasons urged delegates to go back to first principles: “Understand what the structure is; how it works; how it was built. Find out its history, what the material properties were at the time of construction.”

If calculations are required, he warned: “It’s generally best to check stresses to the standards of the time when it was built. The building was originally designed for a purpose and a loading. If analysed correctly you should be able to work it out. Codes may have changed but the laws of statics have not.”

TRADA Technology’s Dr John Williams also warned about applying modern standards to ancient materials.

“Modern grading codes can be punitive to older, historic timbers. The experienced surveyor should be able to recognise the superior material qualities of older, seasoned timber and factor these in when assigning permissible stresses.”

Another key message shared by speakers was the need for teamwork – and early and on-going consultation, not least with local conservation officers. Frances Armitage-Smith has worked with a multi-disciplined team on the Stockport covered market project and the early involvement of all concerned, plus good communication throughout, enabled them to meet the very tight time schedule of only 11 months on site – without the market closing at all.

Simon Linford criticised the cost and waste of time involved in having to retender for every phase of a restoration project and underlined the importance of ‘keeping the team together’.  He has had experience of completing the first phase of a project, only to be undercut on price for the second phase.

“Cheap restoration contractors are cheap either because they have made a mistake or they aren’t investing in the apprentice training that’s needed to keep traditional restoration crafts alive.”

MOSI itself is a stunning example of regeneration, on the site of the Liverpool Road Railway Station, which dates back to 1830. The museum has proved to be a catalyst for regeneration, not only of the local Castlefield district, but also of the surrounding area. It attracts 800,000 visitors a year, more than three times the anticipated numbers, and brings an estimated £40m into the local economy.

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