» Issue 32: Spring 2003

The Sky Tower - Auckland

Colleen Richardson reports on this unique and much-admired building

The Sky Tower, which stands 328 metres tall in the centre of Auckland, is a strikingly elegant and beautiful structure. Completed in 1996, it has already captured the imagination of the people of New Zealand and has become an icon for them much as the Eiffel Tower in Paris is for the French.

It was my first visit to New Zealand and I made lunch my first assignment, sitting in the Orbit revolving restaurant at the top of the Sky Tower. Spread out beneath me was the whole of Auckland as we revolved at about the speed of the London Eye.

My companion was Ian Mackley, the Managing Director -Corporate of Beca Carter Hollings and Ferner Ltd (Beca), a New Zealand-based multidisciplinary consultancy. As principal consultant and design manager, Beca played a pivotal role in the construction of the Sky Tower, providing all the engineering services and contract administration.

Ian -who took an MSc at City & Gulds College in 1978-79 -eagerly pointed out the various sights, including the War Museum, the National Maritime Museum, the famous Ferry Building and the America's Cup Village.

The Sky Tower is the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere and dramatically enhances the city's skyline. The tower has won Beca many awards both in New Zealand and internationally, including the UK Institution of Structural Engineers Structural Achievement Award in 1999. The ISE recommended Beca's work because "the height and special nature of the Tower placed it beyond the scope of conventional design codes," and acknowledged that the company had developed special design features which ensured "a high level of protection against damage and even during severe environmental events, such as earthquakes and wind induced vibrations." Previous winners of this prestigious accolade include the Sydney Opera House, the Toronto Skydome and the Tsing Ma Bridge in Hong Kong.

The Sky Tower, Auckland

Innovative engineering solutions

The project also incorporated the Sky City development -a 16 storey structure which covers an entire half city block. This includes a casino, a 344 room hotel, six restaurants, three bars, conference facilities, a 700 seat theatre and underground parking for 2,000 cars.

The Sky Tower took 36 months to construct and offers a unique experience for an estimated one million visitors each year. Three levels within the observation pod offer superb views of the surrounding sea and islands, but the structure is far more than just a tourist attraction; the colossal 92 metre steel mast and microwave dishes on eight levels are a major broadcasting and telecommunications facility.

The distinctive nature of the site required careful consideration of a number of design aspects, but skilful and innovative engineering solutions have made the tower exceptionally safe. In particular, wind and earthquake loadings were designed to much higher than normal standards. The tower is designed to remain undamaged when subjected to wind speeds of 200 km/h. Movement will, at times, be perceptible, but well within the recommended limits for comfort.

The tower has been designed to withstand the biggest earthquake judged credible for Auckland (Richter magnitude 7, epicentre 40 km away). Using sophisticated time-history computer analysis, Beca designers have demonstrated that the tower would survive an earthquake measuring 8 on the Richter scale.

In addition to the customary smoke detectors and sprinklers, fire safety design engineers also incorporated self-contained 'fire refuges' on the lowest three levels of the pod -protected spaces with 350mm thick walls, able to accommodate 840 people (the maximum permitted in the tower at anyone time). Each refuge has Fire Service access via a lift with its own fire-rated lift shaft, separate from the three passenger lifts that are normally in use.

Beca's electrical engineering team also installed an unusually comprehensive lightning and surge protection system for what is effectively the city's largest lightning rod.

A source of pride

Beca is the largest New Zealand-owned professional services group with approximately l,100 staff. The Sky Tower can be seen from their head office, also in Auckland, and is understandably a source of pride. Ian Mackley acknowledges: "As is the case with most such structures, one either loves it or hates it," but few could fail to be impressed by its night-time vista, with subtle coloured lighting that changes throughout the year.

Ian's responsibilities, as Managing Director -Corporate, include company-wide marketing, human resources, corporate services and quality management. He has also retained many international contacts and is intimately involved in Beca's operations in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Ian, however, lived in London until 1971. This was a turning point as he had just got married and was "looking for a change". He was recruited by Beca and went to work in New Zealand for the regulation minimum of two years. Apart from relatively short periods elsewhere, Ian and his wife Monica have lived there ever since!

He was brought up in Bromley and began his working life with the Middlesex County Council Engineer's Department. He transferred to the GLC Department of Highways and Transportation in 1965, working initially in the design office and later on-site at Blackwall Tunnel. In 1969, he joined the South Eastern Road Construction Unit at Camberley, on a section of the M3 Motorway

In New Zealand, Ian did structural design work for industrial plants in Auckland, then went to Wellington to be Resident Engineer on a new motor vehicle assembly plant project. In 1973, he was transferred to Beca's office in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, as Resident Director. He spent nearly two years managing the practice and working on highway engineering projects and, for the first time, water and wastewater projects. It was the latter that inspired him to take his MSc in Public Health and Water Resources at Imperial.

Back in New Zealand in 1979, Ian made good use of his studies, spending the next three years designing water and wastewater treatment plants. From 1982 until 2000, he was responsible for the overseas operations of Beca -essentially a non-technical position mostly relating to the Asia/Pacific region. He travelled widely amongst senior officials in developing countries, often finding that the 'DIC' on his business card was recognised by fellow alumni.

Ian is an Executive Committee member of the ASEAN/New Zealand Combined Business Council, and because of his long involvement in Indonesia, was appointed in November 2000 as the inaugural Honorary Consul for the Republic of Indonesia in Auckland.

Ian and Monica have been based in New Zealand for 32 years and intend to remain there. There are clearly many incentives to do so: "Auckland is a great place to live, especially if you are a sailor, rugby player or golfer. The sub-tropical climate suits us well (no snow, a handful of frosts), and the South Island has some of the most stunning scenery in the world."

The Macau Tower

The success of the Sky Tower project was an impressive indication of what Beca could achieve, and the company was subsequently invited to be a partner in the construction of the 338 metre Macau Tower near Hong Kong. The challenges included the requirement to design for winds of up to 360km/hr, as the area is frequently subject to typhoons. The Macau Tower officially opened in December 2001.

There are other potential projects around the world under consideration. Visiting the Auckland Sky Tower was an exhilarating experience; if Beca can continue to create towers of equal quality elsewhere, I look forward to admiring the results.

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