Rosewood Hotel London

Mirrored Glass Ceiling

Project Blog for Artworks Solutions Ltd.

The brief for the project was simple enough. “Conceptualise, manufacture and install a bespoke architectural centrepiece to spearhead the 85 million pound restoration and rebranding of Chancery Court Hotel London.” The execution proved a lot harder.

Product Designer, Dicky Berge was tasked with pinning down a workable concept. He visualised three unique panels of angular stainless steel and glass; arranged in a highly intricate grid of modular boxes that, when assembled, would adorn the roof of the proposed dining hall in a wonderfully modern and linear abstraction.

Angular aluminium modules lock together in a fashion that seems abstract and unarranged.

Angular aluminium modules lock together in a fashion that seems abstract and unarranged.

The modules were to be organised in a seemingly unorganised manner, so that no two intersections looked or connected the same. The grid of numbered modules would interlock together using an ingenious but simple sliding lock mechanism that would make fitting on-site simple, fast and efficient. The end result should result in a wonderfully unique and angular interplay of light and reflection for those dining underneath.

The modular boxes are then manually fixed to a welded steel frame that has an ingenious locking mechanism to allow for speedy fixing.

The modular boxes are then manually fixed to a welded steel frame that has an ingenious locking mechanism to allow for speedy fixing.

I arrived in time to help draft the modules and organise the pre-production document that the manufacturing team were to follow like the Bible. I assumed that this would be the extent of my role in the project, but soon learnt that no-one knew the system well enough to translate the plans to the construction team. So I stepped up, oblivious of what I was letting myself in for.

I ended up project managing the entire thing, which meant coordinating closely with the production designer, the head of department, the boss and a variety of manufacturers and supply merchants in order to make sure that the work progressed smoothly. I was tasked with organisation and delivery of materials to site, the overseeing of the assembly and manufacture of the modules and was responsible for project managing the workforce (anywhere between 2 and 6 people).

The trick was pre-empting the workload days in advance and making the necessary preparations. This involved organising materials and tools to site before they were needed, drafting individual schedules of work and attempting to anticipate future hiccups. Although this was a pain, it ensured that no one was ever standing around with nothing to do (and worse: getting paid for it!) Our first hitch coincided with the mid-January flash freeze. The warehouse rarely rose above freezing during this time, which unhinged the gluing process as our industrial strength adhesive was rendered “less-than-industrial”. Not wanting to be responsible for manslaughter, the inevitable lawsuit and an overarching sense of guilt, I needed to find a way to get the glue sticking.

The warehouse was freezing. The heater did it's job, but guzzled far too much fuel.

The warehouse was freezing. The heater did it’s job, but guzzled far too much fuel.

We had two choices – over apply the glue so that the glass stuck (but exceeded the tolerance) or heat the place up a bit. We found that the entire warehouse could be heated up in no time with a gallon-drum portable furnace, but the thing guzzled gas like beer and we were left in the cold within hours. Considering how many modules needed to be turned over, a simpler and more economical solution was needed. I envisioned the construction of a timber “greenhouse” – designed with enough shelves to accommodate the relatively quick turnover of boxes. I ran this by management, who gave it the green light, and oversaw its’ construction whilst micromanaging the assemblage of the modules. The system worked wonderfully. A box was glued, fixed, left to set overnight and removed in the morning. Although this slowed production down somewhat, it was veritable necessity in maintaining a consistency of product.

The greenhouse in early-production: this custom built box was essential to the drying/setting process.

The greenhouse in early-production: this custom built box was essential to the drying/setting process.

With the greenhouse completed, the system for the production of a single box went as follows:

1. Laser cut nets of stainless steel were dropped on site, folded by hand into boxes, and arranged in modular groups
2. The boxes were marked by module, referenced and rubbed down with an alcohol based cleanser
3. The boxes were then placed in wooden jigs (to ensure perpendicular angles) and prepped for gluing
3. Correspondingly marked pieces of mirrored glass were stuck to each side, and taped in place
4. The boxes were then grouped in batches and “cooked” in the greenhouse overnight

As the number of boxes exceeded the greenhouse’s moderate capacity, I set about organising them into their corresponding frames. I figured that the easiest way to do this was to lay everything out on the floor, per-plan but in reverse order so that the fitters would find the most-needed frames nearest the door when the time came to ship them out. This involved delicately transferring the boxes from greenhouse to frame which, more often than not, was a task I assigned to myself; as some of the construction workers were neither thoughtful nor as careful. I generally assigned people to the jobs they were most skilled at, not the ones they enjoyed the most – but remained wary of conflicting personalities. I found that some worked better alone, some in pairs, and the occasional few that needed to be kept apart.

Hundreds of individually coded and sealed sets of glass, loosely organised and ready to be stuck to the aluminium.

Hundreds of individually coded and sealed sets of glass, loosely organised and ready to be stuck to the aluminium.

Micro managing the team was tricky, not because everyone had to be kept busy at all times – but because they had to stay positive and focused too. This was especially difficult when 4000 pieces of wrongly marked glass turned up on the doorstep (that had to be reorganised by hand), or a half dozen steel nets didn’t fit their frames because the blueprints were scaled incorrectly. Tensions rose considerably when we stumbled across hitch number two: fixing the boxes to the frames. To our dismay we found that all … frames had their holes drilled in completely the wrong place. This meant that nothing lined up and secondary holes had to be drilled through 8mm of aluminium. This doubled the production time and remained a serious headache until I found more powerful tools for the job.

Carefully fixing the delicate modular boxes to the steel frame. (Made more difficult by the misplacement of pilot holes).

Carefully fixing the delicate modular boxes to the steel frame. (Made more difficult by the misplacement of pilot holes).

As the frames piled up, and the workforce trebled, I found myself bogged down in modular codes and frame numbers. Visualise hundreds of individually coded boxes to be placed in hundreds of different frames, in three uniquely modular grids. Throw in the dozen or so breakages a day and you’ve got a whole load of incomplete frames and one large headache. I implemented a system of colour coding and list-crossing that kept track of the day-to-day workload but the problem of the breakages still remained. We upgraded tools, used rolls and rolls of bubble wrap and even wore safety gloves. This brought it down to a manageable 3-5 breakages a day; which isn’t bad considering the 1mm tolerance and extremely fragile materials. To make the most of a bad situation we even set up a recycling process whereby identical pieces of glass were chipped off discarded boxes and stuck to the incomplete, new ones.

"...Visualise hundreds of individually coded boxes to be placed in hundreds of different frames, in three uniquely modular grids." Things got a little chaotic.

“…Visualise hundreds of individually coded boxes to be placed in hundreds of different frames, in three uniquely modular grids.” Things got a little chaotic.

To pre-empt the shipping and fitting of frames, MDF coffins were produced on site that were individually tailored to fit each frame like a glove and to ensure a breakage-free delivery. I left shortly before the items were shipped out, but I gather everything went according to plan as the publication photos look magnificent.

Purpose built coffins were created to transport the delicate glass frames to site.

Purpose built coffins were created to transport the delicate glass frames to site.

There is no doubt that the finished project is a marvel to look at… if only those who dine under it now knew of what it took to get it there…

Author

sampbarham

Date & Time

February 6, 2014