25 April 2023
Project of the Year over £10m sponsored by Hill Dickinson
Building Project of the Year over £10m SECBE Award 2023 finalist
After 160 years of being the nation’s timekeeper, having felt the effects of pollution, weather and war, the Elizabeth Tower – more commonly known as, and home to, Big Ben – needed some serious conservation, repairs and refurbishment.
This five-year programme of works amounted to the largest in the Tower’s history. The works included repairing and redecorating the cast iron roof, clock faces and high-level metalwork, waterproofing the belfry, repairing the external stonework, installing two lifts and a new fire alarm, establishing conservation heating and comprehensive systems re-servicing.
All this took place within the Palace of Westminster - a UNESCO World Heritage site – which presented unique security challenges. Everything that came on to site – from labour to materials – had to be planned well in advance, making even the most routine tasks substantial.
For the past century and a half, there’s only been one way up and down the Tower – a single, narrow stone staircase. For easier maintenance and emergencies, a lift was constructed in an existing ventilation shaft. Confined and leaning with the Tower, adapting this space was tricky. Working with small UK-based manufacturers and a steel contractor, a bespoke solution was developed at an economic price, using standard components where possible.
For a landmark of this importance, only work of the highest quality would do. Hence much of the restoration was undertaken off-site by leading specialists in their dedicated workshops around the country. However, the stonework specialists oversaw the replacement of more than 700 replacement masonry pieces in a temporary workshop at the base of the Tower. To ensure
the Tower’s heritage was preserved for future generations, as much of the historic fabric of the building as possible was retained.
Although reaching nearly 100 metres into the sky, the Tower is only 12 metres wide. Working in such close quarters led to a unique and refreshing atmosphere on site, and this project’s approach was exemplary with large contractors and individual artisans across the nation coming together able to learn from each other’s expertise.
It was imperative that the Tower continued its preeminent role in the life of the nation. With the Tower’s striking mechanisms being refurbished, a temporary electronic system was installed allowing Big Ben to be heard on Remembrance Sunday and at New Year. As the project reached completion Queen Elizabeth II sadly passed away. Within 24 hours of receiving the sad news the in-house Clock Mechanics and Cumbria Clock Company ensured the bells were ready to strike for the funeral. This was an immensely proud moment for all those involved on the Project to show their respects to the late Queen Elizabeth II.
A one-in-a-lifetime event on a once-in-a-lifetime project.
The Clock face restores to its original colour ‘Prussian Blue’ upon a paint analysis conducted by the University of Lincoln. The previous Clock face was painted black to hide the dirt and pollution accumulated from the Industrial Revolution.
The temporary works on this project were second to none. To allow repair of the cast iron roof and conservation of the external stone to be executed simultaneously, the whole Tower was cocooned in a 98m scaffold made from 96,272 tubes that took six months to erect.
The Ayrton light is said to have been installed at the request of Queen Victoria, so that she could see from Buckingham Palace when Members of either the Commons or Lords were sitting after dark. This has been fully refurbished and modernised as part of this project.
Client: Strategic Estates - UK Parliament
Project Partners: Lendlease Consulting, Sir Robert McAlpine, Purcell, Cumbria Clock Company, Currie & Brown
Find out more about Project Partners:
Find out who wins at the Constructing Excellence SECBE Awards 2023 Ceremony on Thurs 29th June 2023.
About the Building Project of the Year Award (sponsored by Hill Dickinson):
Project of the Year delivers outstanding outcomes for all those involved in a construction project. It showcases the benefits achieved through the application of many of the principles described in the other award categories. More info.