Southend Cultural Centre lands on the pier

A very large floating crane installed a very large building on the end of Southend Pier on Thursday and I almost missed this significant local construction event and I’m not sure why.  The building was the new Southend Cultural Centre and it weighed 200 tons.

I sort of knew about the project but it was only on Wednesday night that I picked up via twitter that the building was being loaded onto a pontoon at Tilbury Docks ready to be installed on the pier.  A local Echo newspaper reporter George Thorpe (@george7z) tweeted some photos of the loading up and some info about the actual installation which prompted me to look into the project a bit more.

Lifting the building of the quayside at Tilbury Docks to put onto barge.
Photo: George Thorpe

The £3 million project is being carried out by KIER Construction for client Southend Borough Council and you can read more about the project on Southend Borough Councils website here.

Constructing a building on the end of a pier 1.25 miles from the shore was always going to be tricky and it was made more so by the presence of a colony of ruddy turnstones that had taken up residence on the pier.

ruddy turnstone adult in breeding plumage
photo: Wikipedia

These fellows meant that the building had to be scaled down slightly and was a factor in why the building was pre-assembled at Tilbury and lifted into place.  Offsite assembly and installation by floating crane was actually the most sensible method reducing many of the risks associated with constructing a building in such an inaccessible and exposed location.

Works have been going on to the end of the Pier for a while to locally strengthen elements supporting the new building and to provide the direct supports onto which the new building was to be installed.  I’m guessing the support arrangement was unusual as it had to match the layout of the pier columns.  Service connections beneath the new building were also installed.

Supports for new building on pier. Note services too.
photo: George Thorpe

The weather conditions were excellent on Thursday for the installation lift and high tide was early morning.  I arrived on the seafront at around 8.30 and watched most of the installation with the assistance of binoculars.

The building arrived on a pontoon towed by a tug along with the GPS Atlas floating crane which was also towed by tug.  The Atlas is a sheerleg crane with a lifting capacity of 400t.  It is owned and operated by GPS Marine out of Gravesend.  GPS Marine have two such cranes – The Atlas and The Apollo.

Sheerleg cranes have a much higher lift capacity than a crane mounted on a barge that can rotate but they have the disadvantage that to move the load you have to move the whole crane barge.  The largest floating sheerleg cranes can lift thousands of tonnes.  I recall watching and photographing the 1,200t capacity Taklift 7 lifting the tower sections into place on the QEII bridge at Dartford in the 1990’s.

Lifting the new Cultural Centre onto its supports took a couple of hours and was recorded in excellent detail by Southend Echo reporter George Thorpe.  Thanks to George for allowing me to reproduce some of his photographs below.  You can view an album of George’s photos here.  You can read George’s piece on the echo website here. A two page spread with great photos was also in the paper on Friday.

I took a fair number of photos but due to the distance I was away they are not too special.  I have included a couple below.  You can view more in the set here.

This is a very interesting Civil Engineering project and I am going to contact the project team and see if we can organise a talk for ICE members on the project and the installation of the building sometime in the next few months. Watch this space!

The building and crane arriving.
photo: George Thorpe
Crane approaching the pier.
photo: Andrew Kenyon
Preparing the building for lifting.
photo: George Thorpe
The building lifted and pontoon being pulled away.
photo: George Thorpe
Starting to  lift.
photo: Andrew Kenyon
The building being manoeuvred into place.
photo: Andrew Kenyon
Nearly there.
photo: George Thorpe
Inching into place
photo: George Thorpe
Lowering down to its permanent supports.
photo: George Thorpe
In place and crane slackening off.
photo: George Thorpe
Crane de-slung and heading off.
photo: George Thorpe
Congratulations all to a job well done.
photo: George Thorpe
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