Construction Manager of the Year 2020 | Higher Education

Frank Connolly

On this 12-storey block, Frank Connolly’s leadership, passion and commitment delivered quality. His relationship with the architect was collaborative rather than combative, with savings realised without compromising the spirit of the design. He prefabricated on a massive scale and had a cutting-edge digital strategy. He aced the city centre logistics of a land-locked site accessible only from a single-file lane by suspending part of the ground-floor slab over the basement to support a gantry for plant and delivery movements.

About the Project

Client: London School of Economics

Contract: GC Works 1 D&B

Value: £82m

Done badly, value engineering turns into a succession of easy cost wins at the expense of the architectural integrity and aspiration. On this project for a 12-storey block, Frank Connolly showed how to do VE well. His deployment of alternative methodologies, products and sequences realised savings while maintaining the spirit of the design.

Take the brise soleil cladding. Frank ditched an expensive externally installed system requiring secondary steel support and full scaffold access in favour of a unitised system with integrated brise soleil supported by brackets within the frame. Flat-pack brise soleil could therefore be attached to the cladding on site at ground level without the need for scaffolding along the 12-storey elevations. Meanwhile he had the unitised facade’s 3m-wide panels redesigned as 2m-wide elements so they could be installed from the floor slabs with floor cranes and hoist, allowing the tower cranes to be removed earlier.

Then there was his innovation – in methodology as well as technology. Frank derisked the archaeology that has historically dogged the client’s programme in construction projects by co-ordinating the digs with demolition activity. All archaeology was signed off before the construction phase began as scheduled.

The innovation extended to a major prefabrication push to reduce site deliveries and labour, and raise product and installation quality. Some 65% of the project was prefabricated: the steel frame and precast planks; the unitised curtainwalling and brise soleil; the services modules, risers and plant modules; the sprinklers (the UK’s first fully prefabricated system); and reception and cafe pods.

His product innovation included crystalline-based concrete waterproofing rather than time-consuming sheet tanking. And his digital strategy was equally cutting edge. He had animated fly-throughs created to help the supply chain understand the project and the quality required, and a virtual reality walk-through for the client and end users to provide an effective visual interpretation of the design.

The city centre logistics of a land-locked site accessible only from a single-file lane were unflinchingly brutal. Frank’s smart solution was to suspend part of the ground-floor slab over the basement to support a gantry at the site entrance for excavators and lorries to operate and turn. The exercise in top-down construction doubled up to create a fair-faced concrete soffit for the auditorium below.

And when calamity struck, he responded energetically. The rupturing of an off-site water main flooded the basement when the slab pours were already under way. As the flooding continued from a main that the water utility left on for eight long weeks, Frank put in pumping points and switched to smaller slab pours so basement construction could continue – and complete just five days behind.

Centre Building, Holborn, London