A new face for fashion in Cambridge – facing the challenge of a live site
The Grafton Centre is a 500,000 sq.ft covered shopping centre in Cambridge, with an annual footfall of 9.5million shoppers being attracted by retailers including H&M, Debenhams and Decathlon. It is one of three main shopping centres in the area, dominating Fitzroy Street and Burleigh Street in the east of the main shopping district. Built in the 1980s, it needed a refresh to remain competitive. In 2016, the owner LGIM Real Assets began a two-year project with ISG to refurbish the buildings, tackling the works in phases, concluding in summer 2018. Having worked together with ISG on other projects previously, such as The Lannock Care Home and several West London School projects, we were pleased to be selected by the Retail division to update the building facades at The Grafton Centre.
The client understandably didn’t want any interruption to business, so the works were arranged to allow for a live site. Our initial activity was to install the specified Corium brick slip system to the external building. The Corium brick slip system is far better suited to a live shopping centre environment than undertaking traditional brickwork would have been, due to the processes and scaffolds that would be needed. Corium gives a faster result as the bricks can be ‘clicked in’ in sections rather than having to wait for mortar to cure between individual bricks. It is also simpler to work with when using towers or scissor lifts. These factors drastically reduce timescales when compared with traditional brickwork, yet maintain the look that the architect intended.
During the second phase of the project we installed the Trespa Panels, creating a border for the bespoke signage around the shop openings. Finally, in the third phase, we completed the cladding surrounding the ATM machines.
Trespa cladding is one of the most respected brands on the market. The cladding is available in a wide range of different finishes and colours which meant that the architect did not have to compromise on the final look. The finish chosen for this project was a plain grey panel, fitted using the BBA certified Nvelope support system, to frame the large advertising screens around the centre.
A challenge arose when it came to creating the cladding boarders for the advertising hoardings. In an ideal world, we would prefer the hoarding to be in place first, so we are guaranteed to get the frame perfect first time. In this instance, however, we had only the technical drawings to go on as the hoarding was not yet ready to be installed. Despite this we created a border that fitted perfectly into the space and allowed the hoarding to be installed at a later date without any issues.
Every large-scale project faces the potential of change to anticipated schedules and approaches, and this was no different. Despite the initial intention to work whilst shoppers were present, ISG were subsequently asked to change their plans and work outside of shopping times instead. Shoppers were not enjoying being present whilst the works were being undertaken using protected scaffolding towers, and understandably the retailers were not keen on the centre being shut during trading hours. Knowing the importance of flexibility, we were able to change our working hours almost immediately and begin working during the night using scissor lift machines, instead of traditional scaffolding, in order to keep our part of the project on track while still allowing the centre to remain open with minimal disruption.
We drew on our experience again to resolve a request for easy access to services which were intended to be hidden behind the cladding. To solve this problem, we devised a bespoke solution for the end user which meant the panels would not need to be completely removed every time access was needed. We installed specially adapted panels, separated from the system, with hinges fitted to them, so that the services could be easily accessed during maintenance and in emergencies. This was something we had not done before, but is something which we will take forward and use in future where appropriate.
Our ability to react to and overcome each of these challenges shows how our experience and knowledge ensures we can be flexible to suit the needs of the project to help keep it on time and budget.
Both ISG and the end users were pleased with the outcome of the project. Stuart Tweedie, Senior Project Manager, ISG said “We decided to work with Eden Facades because the high quality of the work they have done with other divisions of ISG on similar projects. This was a complex project in a challenging environment, but Eden Facades were able to adapt, flex and innovate to help us keep the refurbishment running smoothly”.
The Grafton Centre shoppers can now enjoy their new modern retail experience and, when the owners are next considering a new look, the whole process will be much easier as one of the benefits of the cladding and brick slip systems is that they are easy to change out for new products.