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Silver winner

Employer: Willmott Dixon Construction

Project: Village Hotel Portsmouth

Matthew Kemp covered every inch of construction management ground on this five-storey hotel scheme.

He proposed a hybrid structural frame able to cover the larger spans needed for the open plan spaces of the lower two floors and the cellular construction of the bedroom floors. He reduced the building height to minimise fire regulation compliance issues. So impressive was he that the client has now engaged Willmott Dixon as its construction partner for a £140m portfolio of nine projects.

With just 12 weeks to go before practical completion on Matthew Kemp’s new-build hotel project, disaster struck. The removal of the protective film over the wet wall panelling in the first ensuite where it had been installed revealed tiny bubbles between the coloured surface layer and the core material, caused by a manufacturing defect. A survey confirmed the worst possible scenario: every single one of the 153 bedrooms was affected – a grand total of over 600 panels – threatening to wipe out Matthew’s carefully choreographed follow-on trade sequencing and to consign the completion date to the dustbin.

Panic would have been entirely understandable, but Matthew took a rather more robust approach. Rather than halt all subsequent works until the panels had been replaced, leaving the project at the mercy of the supplier’s lead time, he sent the follow-on trades in to do their work as planned. He then insisted on each room being signed off as defect-free before the remedial panel works were undertaken. Not only did this programme backloading strategy work, he also turned the setback into a gain by accelerating the bedroom fit-out to run concurrently with the remedial works rather than post-completion, placing both packages with the same contractor.

Matthew didn’t just snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. His contribution throughout the project was superb. With the consultant team having no solution for the structural frame, he championed a hybrid hot-rolled and lightweight steel frame able to deliver the larger spans needed for the open plan spaces of the lower two floors and the repeated cellular construction on the upper bedroom floors.

Then there was the challenge of the top habitable floor of the proposed building height being over 18m above ground level, and so requiring far more stringent fire safety measures including a fire fighting lift. Matthew minimised the fire safety compliance issues by reducing the height of each bedroom floor by 50mm.

The client’s wish to have the bathrooms in each bedroom on the outside wall (to maximise the number of rooms on a reduced floorplate) raised the big problem of how to bring natural ventilation and light into the bedroom while maintaining bathroom privacy. Matthew championed the use of a bespoke glass wall with electronically controlled transparency – guests could then turn a transparent glass pane into an opaque glass wall at the flick of a switch.

Combine all that with Matthew’s consummate ability to process £500,000 worth of contract variations – 20 of the 111 instructions were issued after completion – and you get an inkling of why the hugely impressed client has now engaged Willmott Dixon as its construction partner for nine projects. The £140m+ portfolio of work currently represents the contractor’s single most important account.