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Gatwick's Legoland

BUILDING STRUCTURES

Lego has been the inspiration for some of the new ideas being tried out on a departure lounge extension at Gatwick.

Jackie Whitelaw reports.

It is no surprise to anyone that BAA is a hotbed of demonstration projects. When you have Sir John Egan as your chief executive what option do you have?

However, some of the BAA schemes pre-empted their boss, setting themselves up as demonstration projects of a sort before the rest of us had even heard the phrase. Gatwick South Terminal International Departure Lounge extension is one of them.

The scheme to add an extra 30,000sq ft of retail space to a departure lounge that was refurbished only four years ago is proving to be a test bed for all sorts of ideas. So when management came calling for demonstration projects to put in the Movement for Innovation pot, it was more a question for the IDL team of choosing which topics not to demonstrate improvement in rather than casting about for a couple to focus on.

The IDL team picked perhaps the two toughest - product implementation and production of components - the ones that require traditional thinking to be turned on its head.

The brief for the building is to provide the extra retail space at a cost, speed and internal rate of return 20% better than the number first thought of. Initial budget was £21.8M.

The first decision was to break design and construction of the building into clusters, says BAA project manager Roy Gooderham. The project set up dedicated teams of framework suppliers to focus on shell and core, services and fit out - an idea since developed for all BAA buildings. 'We found as we developed our cluster system that we needed a co-ordinating design role and logistical role to run alongside the clusters and tie everything together,' says Gooderham (see box).

The clusters focused the minds of the people working on each stage on how to add most value to the part of the project in which they had the most expertise. There was some debate about whether mechanical and electrical services needed to run through all the groups as that has an impact on every stage. But, by allowing some overlaps in the clusters - so primary M&E issues such as the service risers could be part of the shell and core discussions - the system worked very well. All suppliers were included in the clusters from day one.

'Each team had its own target and different things we were proud of,' says WSP engineer Frank McLeod. 'When we became a demonstration project, we picked the delivery team concept as one innovation that improved performance.'

The other innovations selected were process mapping, the project web site and production of components. The latter had a great impact on the design and construction of the structure.

The building the team is working on is a five-level extension of the South Terminal international departures lounge. 'The scheme is allowing us to take out a rabbit warren of ramps and replace them with a clear route to the planes. A byproduct is to be able to add shops,' says Taylor Woodrow project manager David Pyle. 'It also means we can give people an improved view of the airfield.'

'Early on we had to design how to build the building,' says WSP's McLeod. 'We could have done it by extending the current IDL but that would have been messy. And there is no point in coming up with an amazing building if it interrupts the revenues. Instead, we opted to construct a self-supporting building that laps over the top of the existing building and in the process gives us an extra floor of space. When the building is complete we can join it up to the old one with minimum disruption.

'Four tonne pieces of steelwork are just kissing the busy IDL,' says McLeod. And the baggage handling operation below is continuing uninterrupted.

If this idea contributed to a good internal rate of return, the next challenge was to take money out of the cost of the building.

The team decided to establish what it was going to build the building with before it did the detailed design. 'We went to Van Dam to talk about cladding before we designed the frame. By walking the production line we sized the panel (to 1.2m by 3m) to suit delivery of material from British Steel to minimise waste. We also decided to use one size of panel only so there was no retooling,' McLeod says.

'We reckon we dropped the price by 70%.'

The steel frame was based on standard British Steel sections with the only deviation the truss that carries the building over the airside road.

'It is a building designed for assembly with every single component being delivered in the right order,' McLeod explains. Thanks to Crown House's prefabricated plant facility, the designers knew the size and shape of plant rooms required to service the square footage of building being planned so the structure could be designed around them.

'In crude terms it is Lego,' says McLeod. The team was working with a kit of standard parts. But as with Lego, standard components do not impose limits on the imagination. 'You can put the components together in an infinite number of ways.'

The big challenge has been for the designers to get to grips with the idea that they are, in effect, responding to information provided by, for example, steelwork supplier Rowan rather than the other way around, McLeod says. 'It is common sense but at the moment it is not common practice,' he adds.

Evidence from Gatwick may encourage others to try the technique. So far, prediction of final cost for the structure is £18.8M - £3M below budget - 'and we are looking for more savings', Gooderham says. First phase completion is scheduled for December this year, three months ahead of the original programme, and the internal rate of return for the BAA business is, it is claimed, well over the 20% expected.

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