Installing complex architectural features on the US embassy in London
In 2010, the US government announced plans for its new, modern embassy in London. Located in the Nine Elms district of south-west London, the 518,050 square feet building was designed by an American architect with major input from UK contractors. The $1-billion project began in 2013. The completed 12-storey, 65-meter-tall building is said to “complement its immediate neighbourhood and improve access to public transportation and the River Thames”.
Working with US and UK contractors, RSK company CAN worked on the extensive project through its rigging and fabric structures construction team. The specialist-access company installed a complex architectural brise soleil to three of the four external facades of the new embassy development. By implementing the brise soleil feature, the building can use its innovative series of horizontal blades to control the amount of sunlight and solar heat that enter the building.
The support structure comprises 777 steel and aluminium T-section elements, some of which are up to 7 metres long. Working beyond the reach of conventional powered-access platforms, CAN’s engineers used industrial rope access techniques to complete the installation on a heavily congested site with minimal space available at ground level.
The feature required installing about 350 tonnes of material to the three facades using tower cranes for initial lifts and electrically powered Minifor winches to manipulate the structural components. The T-section elements created an external skeleton to which ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) plastic panels, a lightweight alternative to glass, were mounted.
In total, 399 single-layer ETFE panels were installed. This required careful management of each one while working in variable wind speeds through the autumn and winter period. Seventy of the 399 panels have additional horizontal cabling securing them to the facade to limit the possibility of damage caused by the prevailing winds. CAN completed its robust and intensive work programme to schedule, and the embassy opened, as planned, in 2018.