Arup’s Engineering Designs for The Tower of Light

15 December 2017

‘Tower of Light’ is a 37m tall sculptural chimney that will be built as part of the new Combined Heat and Power plant (CHP) that has been commissioned for Manchester City Centre. Once operational, the CHP will serve a 2km district heating network, connecting several iconic buildings, including Manchester Town Hall and The Bridgewater Hall.

Structural engineers at Arup have been working in close collaboration with Tonkin Liu Architects on the design of this imaginative nine storey wind shield. Winning the competition in Autumn 2017, the team interpreted the client’s brief, and suggested combining the façade and structure. Central to the design is the sculptural skin of the tower which also provides support to the five chimney flues within.

This approach builds on eight years of design-led research by Arup and Tonkin Liu, refining a method of building they refer to as ‘Shell Lace Structure’; which is inspired by the natural world. The engineers and architects are passionate about learning from nature, where geometry is optimised to provide strength and stiffness with minimal material.

The ethereal skin of the tower will be cut from undulating flat plate of 8mm thick at the base of the tower, and tapering to an elegant 4mm towards the top. The cut plates are bent and welded together at the seams, providing stiffness and strength that negates the need for any additional structural members.

The tower will be the latest in a series of shell-style projects designed by Arup and Tonkin Liu. This follows in the footsteps of the futuristic ‘Rain Bow Gate’ pavilion in Burnley and the stylish permanent sculpture ‘Solar Gate’ that was recently unveiled in Hull to celebrate its status as 2017 UK City of Culture.

Evolving our thinking and learning on earlier shell projects built in this way, we are using digital design techniques to optimise the geometry of the tower, to minimise the thickness of steel required for the skin. The additional challenges posed by the need to support five chimney flues over the height of a nine storey building has made for an incredibly exciting project and we’re looking forward to starting fabrication in 2018. ” Will Arnold, Senior Structural Engineer Will Arnold Former Senior Structural Engineer