Laing O’Rourke’s involvement in St Peter’s Square kicked off in 2011 with the £98m transformation of the Grade II*-listed Central Library and Town Hall extension. The project includes a glazed link building, by Ian Simpson Architects, that connects the two buildings for the first time.
A radical revamp
The award-winning library revamp was devised to double visitor numbers to around two million people a year, by implementing a radical new circulation plan and a move to open up previously closed-off areas. A new full-building-height glass and steel staircase and lift system was installed to improve access to all seven floors, bringing clarity to the existing warren of staircases, rooms and corridors. An additional 20,000 sq ft of public space was created by opening up the previously back-of-house ground floor and using the lower ground-floor space as an extended library. Around 70% of the library is now public space, compared with just 30% before the work.
With the scale of the transformation, it was critical to get it right. “The vast labyrinth of bookcases in the basement provided the structural support for the entire building,” explains operations leader Tom Higgins. “The problem was, they offered very little fire protection and if a fire had broken out, the entire building would be at risk of collapsing if the bookcases were destroyed.” That meant the team needed to demolish and reconstruct all four floors without damaging any of the building’s heritage features. “One of the best analogies I heard was that it was like removing the filling from a really elaborate wedding cake and replacing it with four new layers of filling, without compromising any of the icing on the outside. It’s an incredible feat of engineering.”
St Peter’s Square is intersected by the new Metrolink Second City Crossing, a tram expansion project that runs from Victoria railway station, via Exchange Square, to a new tram stop interchange in the square. The 14-month build programme for the interchange track and platforms, undertaken by M-Pact Thales, a joint venture between Laing O’Rourke, Volker Rail and Thales, faced tough logistical challenges in the vicinity of the square, due to its extensive public and civic use.
Rapid construction of the second platform for the tram stop benefited from a collaborative working arrangement with Laing O’Rourke’s neighbouring Two St Peter’s Square project.
The Metrolink stop, with its specially designed passenger shelters, is understood to be the first tram stop in the world to have trees planted on platforms.
“The square is one of the city’s most-loved areas,” says Tom. “There’s always been a sense of grandeur and history to it. Studying for my degree in the Central Library all those years ago, never did I imagine I would be part of the team responsible for its transformation. I’m extremely proud that we have been able to play such a significant and wide‑ranging role in the square. It’s a testament to the organisation’s capabilities, and one we can all take pride in.”