Not many construction managers get the chance to instal an exact replica of a 3,500-year-old pharaoh’s tomb. But that was just one of Graham Leigh’s technical feats on this museum refurbishment that went so well the client granted the local boy the accolade of hanging his portrait permanently in its gallery of Bolton legends, alongside boxer Amir Khan and footballer Nat Lofthouse.
His value engineering of a 1930s building with a leaky roof and other urgent repair needs was as canny as it gets. He reduced the spend on air-handling units by creating thermal models to identify where existing units could be left in place and where new ones needed to be installed.
Another major saving came from his refurbishment of a roof where 326 glass panels (forming skylights to the galleries below) had numerous cracks where water seeped through. Realising that over the years scores of panels had been deliberately blocked or painted over because some rooms such as stores needed to be in darkness, he replaced those areas with slates to keep the project within budget while pleasing the planners. And where the replacement was glass, he supported the greater weight of the double rather than original single glazing by changing the pitch of the rooflights, beefing up the supports, and putting peelable black film on the surface to allow for the easy reinstatement of a glazed gallery.
Graham’s ingenuity and innovation delivered the marquee item of installing Europe’s only full-scale replica of a pharaoh’s tomb – that of Thutmose III – to perfection. A 3.5m-high free-standing structure made from timber-backed plaster panels assembled like a 3D jigsaw puzzle to form an exact copy of the original, right down to all the cracks, Graham devised a way to hang it in a room with just 150mm clearance at the walls and 300mm at the roof without bringing the ceiling down. He hung the heavy 2m x 2m panels from a suspended ceiling via structural wires spread over timbers on the frame (no fixing was allowed through the face of the tomb), using extensive weight and deflection testing to ensure the ceiling was not overloaded.
He also devised an innovative way to display more of the client’s many artefacts in storage by creating five glass archways that visitors can walk under. Filled with anything from pottery and necklaces to statues and stuffed animals, the arches are made from structural glass, with no framing, so as not to block views of the exhibits.