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Reach for the sky

Atkins | 05 Dec 2008 | Comments

Built in 1951 as a centrepiece of the Festival of Britain and a symbol of the nation’s post-war resurgence, the inspirational Skylon tower may rise again.

“Skylon was ahead of its time. It was a feat of magic using maths and physics, which stretched the skills and knowledge of everyone involved,” says Hayden Nuttall, design director at Atkins, which is backing a project to rebuild London’s iconic tower.

“Built at a time when Britain was rediscovering its greatness – in architecture, engineering and commerce – Skylon fascinated and inspired a whole generation of engineers,” he says. By reconstructing the Skylon tower, Atkins hopes to highlight what is possible through engineering excellence, and to once again attract new lifeblood to the industry.

Despite its popularity, the original tower was never intended to last more than two or three years. When the post-war Churchill government deemed it too expensive to dismantle and re-erect elsewhere, it was toppled in what some branded “architectural vandalism”. The scrap metal was allegedly melted down and turned into ashtrays, a function the then prime minister would no doubt have approved of.

While the rebuilt Skylon would be as faithful as possible to the appearance and structure of the original, the hope is that it would still be standing 50-100 years from now. “Skylon drew people in and got them talking,” says Nuttall. “We hope the new tower will do the same, for many years to come.”

As well as the difficulties in repeating this feat of engineering, Atkins will have to cope with challenges not faced by original architects Powell and Moya.

“We must reinvent it for the modern world, and enable it to stand up to the elements: high winds, lightning, corrosion and wilful damage,” says Nuttall. For example, if the new tower were to use the same materials as the original, it would have needed repainting every 10-20 years. New, more durable materials mean it will require minimum maintenance. This time, Skylon will be built to last.

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