Steel solution for university research facility

Martin Cooper from New Steel Construction reports on why one Scottish university turned to steel for its new research building

University of Strathclyde

TO help boost economic development, researchers, engineers and project managers from academia and industry are being brought together to work in a state of the art building at the University of Strathclyde.

Known as the Technology and Innovation Centre, it will provide office, conference facilities and lab space for students, academics and industry experts to work on solutions to challenges in sectors as diverse as power and energy, renewable technologies, advanced engineering and bio-nano systems.
The TIC has attracted major industrial partners and at £89M, the project is the university’s biggest investment in its research capacity. It is anticipated it will become the cornerstone of Scottish Enterprise’s International Technology and Renewable Energy Zone – a global hub bringing innovative businesses into the heart of Glasgow.
The building is a nine-storey, steel framed wedge shaped structure occupying a sloping brownfield site. Conditions proved to be challenging at first, due to the topography and water environment which included run off from excavations and some localised perched water. This lengthened the groundworks programme and meant the steelwork erection had to be sequenced accordingly.
“Initially we had to concentrate on erecting steelwork on the western elevation where groundworks had been completed,” said Alistair Forsyth, Lend Lease Structural & Civils Package Manager. “Once this had been completed however, we were able to bring both sides of the structure together and erect steel in a more traditional method.”
The steel erection programme is being carried out using a combination of two tower cranes, supplemented by a couple of 70t capacity mobile cranes. Mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) are also used and to give these machines a safe working surface halfway up the building, the sixth floor slab has been reinforced.
“Working off of this slab, operators will have the reach to erect most of the upper steelwork,” added Mr Forsyth.
Using three concrete cores for stability, the steel frame is generally based around a 9.5m x 6m grid pattern in laboratory areas and a 12.7m x 6m grid in office areas. Cellular beams have been used throughout the floor plate to integrate the ducting in what will be a heavily serviced building. The top third of the wedge shaped building is nine levels high, but the structure slopes down towards the south and the pointed tip tops out at seven floors.
The north block will house most of the labs on levels 4, 5, 6 and 7. The steel frame and precast slab has been stiffened as far as possible to achieve the onerous vibration requirements specified. The slab is thicker at 300mm, compared to 150mm elsewhere within the building and additional secondary beams have been employed.
“Heavier steel sections and a thicker slab have been used in this area to make this part of the floor plate approximately six times stiffer than would be normally required for static loadings,” said Angus Macdonald, Struer Project Engineer. “This additional mass and stiffness has been provided to support a reasonable standard of instrument performance. The current design will generally deliver a floor response factor of 1.0 at mid span locations and a response factor of 0.5 or better at column and core locations.”
The central portion of the structure contains a 450-seat auditorium located at level two. Allowing the auditorium to be column free, a pair of 25m long double height trusses have been installed at levels 4 and 7. The two trusses were bolted together during the installation process to form one large five-storey element.
“We had to bring the main booms of the trusses to site in 20m and 5m lengths, which were temporarily supported by props during the erection process,” said Robin Hamill, Fisher Engineering Project Manager.
The large truss is supported by fabricated plate columns, each founded at basement level and brought to site in 16m lengths. An open space above the auditorium’s roof will have a glazed roof to form a central atrium allowing natural daylight to penetrate.
Either side of the central void the side elevations of the structure will house the buildings offices. With a similar steel grid pattern to the lab zone of the building, many of the office spaces also feature clear spans in the order of 12.7m.
“Flexibility as well as the required long spans were two of the main reasons for choosing a steel frame solution,” said Mr Macdonald. “The TIC’s requirements may change in time and so laboratories and offices may need to be enlarged or service risers may require to be reconfigured and this is much easier to do with a steel frame.”
Both of the elevations accommodating the offices culminate at the wedge’s tip that overhangs a double height open space in front of the TIC’s main entrance.
This same double height space then extends internally from the entrance all the way along the ground floor western elevation.
Summing up Mr MacDonald added steel’s flexibility and adaptability has allowed changes to be made at a very late stage. “For example riser positions are still being finalised late into the programme and changing the design to suit these changes would not have been anywhere near as easy with a concrete frame.”