In Spring 2015, Laing O’Rourke began work on Westgate Oxford, a £440m retail development nestled in the heart of Oxford. The project has been a huge undertaking, including the construction of the shell and core of the three-storey retail complex, together with a 1,000 space underground car park and a residential block with 61 new apartments, as well as extensive remodelling of the existing shopping centre.
Just two years later, the project is entering its final few months, with the anchor John Lewis department store successfully handed over to our client, Westgate Oxford Alliance in March 2017.
An efficient solution
In such a historic city, with some of the UK’s finest historical architecture on show, it was important that the design for the new Westgate development was as sensitive as possible to the heritage of the city. “A tremendous amount of detail went in at the design stage to make sure the designs were sympathetic to the traditional architecture of the city, and as such, much of development draws inspiration from a typical Oxford street, particularly the brick cladding” says Chris Rafferty, Laing O’Rourke’s project director. A variety of brick-faced precast claddings have been used throughout the project. “We’ve got three different buildings with three different claddings,” continues Chris. The John Lewis block is clad with an “unusually shaped” handmade brick; block three uses a more traditional variety, while block two uses three shades of artificial reclaimed brick that have been separated out to create three different coloured panels.
The precast brick-faced panels on the project are part of a suite of components delivered utilising the Laing O’Rourke’s signature Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) product range. “We’ve been able to fully develop the bespoke brick-cladding panels as we were able to engage early enough in the design process, designing the structural frame to take the cladding and designing the connections from the cladding to the frame, as well as defining the crane and logistical coordination of installation on site. Because of this, we’ve been able to deliver and install the panels at a very fast pace, without compromising quality. It’s a very quick and efficient operation.”
And it’s not just the cladding that has benefited from engaging early in the process. “We’ve changed significantly the concrete frames in both the basement car park and the John Lewis building, which is 100% DfMA,” says Chris.
The results have been clear to see on the project. The John Lewis store facades have been constructed with a team of just four operatives, whereas the relatively small residential block - which the team got late access to - needed 24 people to build and is still under construction. As Chris explains: “The John Lewis example clearly highlights the benefits our early engagement strategy can bring, not just through offsite manufacturing, but by working with clients who understand what we can provide when we are involved at the earliest possible stage.”
Nearing the finish line
With the John Lewis block handed over, the focus is now on completing the remaining blocks. “The structures are complete and the cladding is well progressed,” says Chris. “It’s now about aspects of the roofing, the glazing, the internal public areas, the arcades and the retail shells.” The 800,000 sq ft development is due for completion in Autumn 2017, right on time for Christmas trading.