SILVER MEDALLIST IN 2021 Accommodation Over 4 Storeys

John Higgins MCIOB
McAleer & Rushe
All Finalists2021 Winners

McAleer & Rushe

Onyx, Birmingham

ProjectSmart methodology and clever sequencing were John Higgins’ constant companions on this ambitious scheme on a city centre island site for a 1,000-unit block crowned by a 24-storey tower. Jumpform core construction and double-stacked mast climbers were just two of his key initiatives. He also offered technical insight that eliminated risk and cost, standardising the building’s internal columns to minimise bespoke formwork. His hard work, clear thinking and calm approach delivered a very difficult design.

About the Project

Construction of 1,025 units of student accommodation, completed in 70 weeks.

Client: AIG

Contract: JCT 2011, design and build

Value: £59m

Having impressed with an early and under-budget completion of a student accommodation scheme of 400 units, John Higgins was entrusted with this second, even heftier job. Boasting a 24-storey tower linked by a nine-storey block to a 13-storey tower, the Onyx is the tallest building the contractor has ever constructed.

The heart of John’s construction challenge was the building’s most eye-catching feature – a glossy-black pixellated rainscreen facade that wraps the two towers from roof to pavement. To gain the installation muscle required to fit the huge expanse on the higher tower, he double-stacked the mast climbers.

By putting in a false deck at level 12 so that the lift installation could begin before the shaft was fully completed, he achieved an early lift handover that in turn allowed early removal of the external hoist, ensuring the facade at this elevation could be completed on time. He even jumpformed the construction of the core, as there were simply too few setdown areas on the cramped island site for all the materials that would otherwise have had to be craned in for the taller tower’s three lift shafts and two stair cores.

That smart methodology and sequencing was accompanied by technical insight that eliminated risk and cost. John bulked up the steel of the structural framing system and fixed the full-height windows to it to avoid overloading the slab edge of the post-tensioned concrete frame, which already had to support masonry and the fire barrier.

He minimised the need for bespoke formwork by standardising the building’s internal columns. And when lockdown cut off the supply of perforated acoustic ceiling plasterboard for the lobby areas, he kept the project moving by sourcing what was needed from Scotland, where all construction sites had closed.

John’s management headspace was phenomenal. At one stage, he was managing the final stage of the post-tension design, the facade, the temporary works, the masonry support, the roof design, planning conditions and all design approvals simultaneously. It simply made his calm demeanour and clear thinking all the more impressive.