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Tonkin Liu wins approval for Tower of Light scheme in Manchester

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Tonkin Liu has won unanimous approval to build a 40m-high sculptural tower as part of a new energy centre scheme in central Manchester

The practice landed the council-backed project following a competition last year, seeing off Hawkins\Brown, Marks Barfield and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (see AJ 05.12.17).

As well as the tall ‘shell lace’ column-like beacon, the scheme includes a glazed white terracotta façade for the proposed low-carbon energy centre, which will be at the heart of Manchester’s Civic Quarter Heat Network.

The project is the latest in the series of ‘shell lace’ structures designed by the practice – a technique developed in collaboration with Arup over the last several years.

The first was the Rain Bow Gate in Burnley in 2012, followed by the Solar Gate built for Hull’s UK City of Culture year in 2017. Tonkin Liu’s winning proposal in the Landsdowne Club competition last year also features a shell lace canopy.

Competition scheme (left) and approved scheme (right)

Competition scheme (left) and approved scheme (right)

Competition scheme (left) and approved scheme (right)

Architect’s view

Within the immediate surrounding context of exemplar engineering projects of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Tower of Light will be an exemplar 21st-century structure for Manchester. It is an ultra-lightweight, vertical single-surface structure whose form is its strength, using the least material to achieve the most.

Made from tailored 3-8mm-thick laser-cut sheets that are then curved and welded together to create a stiff strong surface, the biomimetic structure will support the 37m-tall chimneys from the base of the new energy centre. It will be the latest evolution in shell lace structure, a pioneering and innovative structural technique developed over eight years of design-led research by Tonkin Liu, in collaboration with engineers from Arup.

Minimal energy is used to light the tower. During the day, polished reflectors moving in the wind reflect sunlight into the tower’s chambers, to animate the structure with ever-changing moving light. During the night, LED lights directed at the reflectors create moving light. Programmed seasonal and everyday lighting is being developed and refined in collaboration with specialist consultant Seam. An undulating white brick wall with integrated lighting forms the street façade, resonating the tower’s form at the scale of a hand.

The Tower of Light captures the energy of the sky to make an enduring and animated symbol of our time. By using solar and wind power, the sculptural landmark celebrates Manchester’s low-carbon ambition and Climate Change Action Plan.

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