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In this part of the building, the connection between the new building on the left and the older building on the right is clear to see

Hawkins completes new Engineering School building for the University of Auckland

Pass through Auckland’s Grafton Gully and you’ll notice a new landmark that dominates the skyline. The 11-storey building on Grafton Road is known as B405 and is part of the University of Auckland’s Engineering School. It’s a 32,000 sq m facility for postgraduate research.

Dino Matsis is associate director capital works at the University of Auckland. He says this is the most complex project the university has ever undertaken. “The university wanted a building with an exposed structure that would put engineering on show for the benefit of the students. We knew that there would be many challenges on this project, so we needed a high-calibre team to deliver.

“It’s a relatively tight site: we needed the old building demolished before work could begin, and we wanted the new building to link to the one next door, so that students could move easily from one space to another. The research labs are fantastic now, with technicians having full visibility of their students. We’re very happy with the result. It’s a facility that will serve the university well for many years to come,” Dino says.

The project was designed by Jasmax and built in 30 months by Hawkins. It has been built to the highest seismic standards, yet integrates seamlessly with the older Engineering School building next door. Some 40 km of pipes, 12 km of ducts, 8 km of secondary steel beams and 3300 tonnes of structural steel have been used in its construction.

From Symonds Street the building has quite a different look, with red, orange and yellow glass fins

Interesting but challenging

Hawkins project director Steve Ritchie says the university’s desire to expose the building’s engineering made for a more interesting, challenging project. “You can see the steel structure, you can see the pinned connections in the braces. They’re not hidden away and that’s a bit unusual. It’s called ‘engineering on display’. You could say that the client threw the gauntlet down to be a bit more creative with this project, and everyone involved rose to that challenge.”

Steve says it was important to make sure that all the right subcontractors were on the job to meet the level of complexity and quality required. “Getting the right resources can be tricky in such a heated market. I would say this is the toughest project I’ve ever worked on in more than 30 years in the industry – but it’s also one of the best Hawkins has ever worked on. Getting a job like this completed is down to the total project team – the client, the architect, the consultants and the subcontractors. Without them, we can’t build anything,” Steve says.

“The reason this project was so successful is we had a collaborative process with a proactive client and design team who made the necessary decisions to move the project forward – along with a great supply chain,” he says.

An integrated BIM project

Steve is a member of the BIM Acceleration Committee, which has members from the various sectors across the building and construction industry. He says planning the work was made easier thanks to the fact that BIM (building information management) was used throughout the project, right from the pre-design phase.

“This was a truly integrated BIM project, which means everyone involved in the job is inputting their information into the same model, right from the start of the process. It will be a useful case study from that perspective.”

The building has more than 800 rooms of varying shapes and sizes, many of which are laboratories and have specialist facilities like fume cupboards, meaning they needed specialist services. By creating the building’s digital twin in three dimensions, the project team were able to take some of the risk out of coordinating the services for these rooms.

Many of the laboratories have specialist equipment that required careful coordination of services

“It would have been extremely difficult to build something this complex without using BIM. I think this project proved to everyone involved that BIM is well worth the investment,” Steve says. “It allows us to identify clashes in the 3D model and solve those problems. That means less rework, which saves materials, saves time and makes the build more cost-effective for the client.”

The Hawkins team began working onsite in June 2017. After demolishing the existing six-storey building, the work began using a construction sequence that allowed the team to work in two places at once.

“The way it worked was we would go up three floors with the steel structure, pour one floor, then go up another three. By skipping floors and infilling later, we could work on two parts of the building at once, which helped us achieve our project outcomes,” Steve says.

Health and safety culture

At its peak, there were 400 to 500 people working on the site each day, so maintaining a strong health and safety culture was essential – not just for the people working on the job, but for the staff and students in the adjoining building.

“We had to maintain a fire egress route through our site throughout the construction process and be aware of the effect of our work on the people using the building next door. I think the engineering students enjoyed being able to watch a live construction site – and there were only a couple of times that the professors were tempted to offer us advice!” Steve laughs.

Integrating services between B405 and the adjoining buildings was challenging – particularly when it came to the fire system and the chillers. “We had to integrate the new building’s fire alarm system with the fire alarm system in two existing buildings, which was difficult because they were not speaking the same language. Quite a bit of time was spent on solving that one,” Steve says.

Inside the main entrance to the building on Grafton Road

“We also had two existing chillers in a large existing plant room which needed to come out and three new ones had to go in, all while maintaining comfort for those in the existing part of the building. Significant time and effort went into that – it was really quite a difficult problem to solve,” he says.

Electrical shutdowns had to happen early in the morning or on Sundays, so that users in the existing building wouldn’t be affected.

Completed on time

Naturally, the university needed the building to be ready for the start of the new academic year, so there was little room for movement in the programme. “Everyone involved pulled out all the stops to get the project completed, and we officially received project completion on 20 December,” Steve says.

“The chance to build something like this doesn’t come along every day. It has been a great career development opportunity for the Hawkins team, who’ve gained so much knowledge from working on this job,” he concludes.

Hawkins has also just completed the university’s new home for its Medical and Health Science’s School of Population Health, opposite Auckland Hospital.


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