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Tonkin Liu wins ‘Tower of Light’ scheme in Manchester

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Tonkin Liu has won a Manchester council-backed competition to design a 40m-high sculptural tower

The practice beat competition from Hawkins\Brown, Marks Barfield and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios to win the scheme, which also includes a street façade and will enclose a new energy centre.

As well as standing as a ‘large scale sculpture’, said the firm, the tower will also contain flues to release gases produced by the energy centre. 

Arup was chosen as structural engineer for the project, which was judged by a panel including Manchester City Council representatives and past RIBA president Stephen Hodder.

Model 1

Model 1

Source: Tonkin Liu

Tower of Light in Manchester by Tonkin Liu (model)

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 everchanging 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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