Meet the finalists

Higher Education
All Finalists2020 Winners

Liam Davies

ISG

Liam Davies’s success on this challenging new-build three-storey block for a first-time client is clear from the client awarding him a second project on the same site. His smart solutions and clever resequencing overcame considerable problems posed by the ground and the legacy structure’s facade retention system. His value-adding innovations included sourcing a birch ply for a high-focus cladding feature treated with a fire retardant that met the client’s requirement for an untreated look.

About the Project

University of Wolverhampton School of Architecture and the Built Environment

Construction of three-storey block, completed in 99 weeks.

Client: University of Wolverhampton

Contract: JCT, design and build

Value: £27m

A month after joining ISG, Liam Davies joined the bid team for this scheme for an academic block linked to a refurbished Grade II-listed building. His position as a local as well as a graduate of the university anchored his contract win.

The project’s early headaches were Liam’s biggest. The engineered fill completed by the client’s enabling works contractor was not certified to carry the load of a ground-bearing slab, so the slab pours now had to end at the points of support provided by piles. This not only lengthened the programme but also meant the retaining wall could not be started early, as it too had to sit directly on the piles. With his plan of starting the wall while still piling now in tatters, Liam came up with the programme-maintaining innovation of using polystyrene void filler at the back of the retaining structure to reduce the load (and therefore the works) in the higher slab areas.

Similarly, he inherited the facade retention system that held up the shell of the adjoining listed structure, an old brewery. Liam had to plan the new build with the retention system in place, only gradually extracting it as each structural floor was installed in the new build. So instead of being able to work top down, making the new structure watertight early so fit-out could start sooner, he had to work from the ground up, leaving the works open to the elements for a much longer period.

What’s more, refurbishing the legacy building’s chimney required a full access scaffold early on, as installing the new build’s steel frame would eliminate access to the chimney. Liam not only had to excavate and pour the foundations directly below the chimney area out of sequence with the scaffold erection, forcing the new-build superstructure off the agenda for weeks, but the century-old building was itself handed over to the project 10 weeks late. Liam had to accelerate working practices to maintain the contracted handover date.

Yet the project wasn’t all about furiously resequencing and revving the works to catch up with problems imposed by others. Liam was also able to innovate admirably, achieving reductions in cost, material and resources. With the new build’s entrance atrium clad in 5,000 square metres of birch plywood, Liam maintained the amount of ply on display but reduced its thickness and facing requirements. He also sourced direct from Poland a birch ply treated with a non-toxic fire retardant that did not alter the finish of the visible wood, meeting the client’s requirement for an untreated look.

The proof of the close and trusting relationship Liam built with this first-time client for ISG is demonstrated by the recent direct award of another project on the same site. The client wants it managed by the same team, with Liam in charge. Being honest and delivering on promises isn’t always the easiest approach, but the ultimate rewards are high.