Building service engineering company Max Fordham – led by the eponymous award-winning green energy advocate – has helped deliver a history-making first at Southbank’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.
A pioneer of green energy through sustainable design and environmentally friendly engineering, Max Fordham, working alongside architects Feilden Clegg Bradley has helped to complete the first major building services renovation to the site since its opening in 1967.
In April, Southbank’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, along with Purcell Room, opened its doors to the public for the first time since closing for refurbishment at the end of 2015. It is the first time that the famous concert hall has been closed for an extended period, a bold statement for a building which opens its doors to the public 364 days a year, and an indication of its need to be updated.
Max Fordham has implemented a number of major changes to the building. It has replaced the auditorium air conditioning systems. Reinstating cooling of the Queen Elizabeth Hall for the first time in over 30 years, the air flow has been reversed. Originally supplied from the ceiling of the auditorium, the conditioned air is now supplied from below the seats, creating a comfortable environment for the audience. Conditioned air is supplied only where it is needed, minimising energy use.
Removing the old ductwork from the ceiling voids has created space for the retractable lighting rig, an updated and high spec piece of equipment which now sits neatly in the roof, descended for specific events and hidden from view for others.
Stuart Humber, who led the team from Max Fordham, said, “Heating and ventilation systems tend to stay the same size over time. In contrast audio and visual systems expand as the tech develops and modernises. The new theatre equipment that a venue like this demands is far bigger than it would have been in the 60s, when the concert hall was intended to host piano recitals and ensemble orchestras. Much of our work at Queen Elizabeth Hall has been about making better use of the existing space to create room for the best equipment’.
The refurbishment work took over two years to complete. Initial evaluations of the site took place while the building was still in use, but Stuart Humber said “historical buildings pose challenges that are not always obvious in the first instance. Simultaneously preserving and updating a building such as Queen Elizabeth Hall is a complex process. When you start unpicking things to look beneath the skin of a building, new complications arise. We relish the opportunity to take on these challenges and are proud to work on projects like these.”
Max Fordham has worked on many projects with the Southbank Centre, beginning with its work on the Royal Festival Hall, which completed in 2007.
As well as M&E Engineering and Sustainability Consultancy, Max Fordham is providing Soft Landings Consultancy, which will see it monitor the impact and usage of the work they have done on the building. Particularly with buildings so complicated and bespoke, the Soft Landings process is crucial to ensure the users of the building get the most out of the new systems.
Max Fordham is known for its expertise in sustainable building design. It’s an ethos that originally helped build the company. Indeed, the practice began five decades ago with the reduction of waste, particularly energy, as a founding principle. All of its engineers are highly versed in building physics and Max Fordham applies this expertise to help clients reduce energy use by exploring every possibility that their building, whether new build or refurbishment, offers.
Design starts with analysis all of the natural resources available on a site: solar orientation & shading, wind speed and direction, availability of water above and below ground, seasonal and diurnal temperatures and so on.
Max Fordham works closely with the architect to develop options for the building form, fabric and facade that will maximise the opportunity for passive conditioning, using controlled daylight and natural ventilation. Following this, focus is turned to optimisation and efficiency of active M&E systems and the integration of appropriate renewable technologies.
The company’s approach is always to start by reducing the base building load. It works with the building form and fabric alongside the design of efficient M&E systems. Green energy technologies enhance these efforts.
The most suitable green energy technology for a site needs to be assessed at the outset. It is a balance between the natural resources, the building energy profile, legislative requirements and capital funding vs. financial incentives. Whatever the solution, it needs to be integrated with both the building and the M&E strategy.
Over the years, Max Fordham has delivered many projects incorporating on-site green energy technologies including: Photovoltaic arrays (PV’s); Solar thermal; Closed loop ground source; Open loop boreholes; Riverwater cooling; Biomass heating; Wind turbines; and Combined heat and power (CHP).
The company possesses in-house software for modelling thermal transfer in ground source systems to check the available capacity and efficiency over the whole life of the system. It also has an engineer involved in the biomass supply chain and a PV specialist based in its London office.
Indeed, in 2016, the company’s green energy successes saw it win the ACE Sustainability Champion Award. That year it showcased, for example, systems it developed for a project at Worcester library where, through such unobtrusive methods as air-tightening for insulation culminating in a 50% reduction of CO2 at the site.
The company’s Max: Research + Innovation initiative also impressed (established to drive research and development in the fields of environmental design, building systems, resource use and experimental architecture) and its collaborative working methods encouraging consultants to communicate their sustainability aspirations also helped Max Fordham to the award.
The judges said: “Of particular note was that throughout the design process Max Fordham engineers considered the life-cycle impacts including the environmental effects of the project from construction through to eventual demolition or reuse. They collaborated closely with client, architects and design teams and used local materials wherever possible to reduce their carbon footprint.”