Landmark’s cutting-edge skylights

Set on Water Street in Liverpool, the majestic grade two-listed India Buildings is being brought back to its former glory by a refurbishment project, which includes 21st century skylights that realise the vision of the original architects.

Originally built between 1924 and 1932 by Dove Brothers of Islington, the building survived wartime bomb damage and was restored successfully by one of the original architects.

The 12-storey building is clad in Portland stone and, with a roof of green Lombardic tiles, India Buildings is a cherished central landmark in a city known for its rich architectural heritage.

Inside the building there are four rooflights, which are central to the original design and help draw natural light into the historic building.

The project aims to bring the building in line with modern class-A office standards, but the architect, Falconer Chester Hall, made every effort to retain the character and features of the original building.

The Banking Hall and Regency Suite are home to the rooflights. The latter previously had a mezzanine level – thought to be installed in the late 1970s – but this has been removed to restore the grandeur of the original light-filled double-height spaces.

The rooflights went through many different design iterations to get the perfect result.

The Pilkington Planar system was chosen to fasten to the support structure, thanks to its low-profile design. The stainless steel fittings use bolts that are countersunk into the glass to allow a flush exterior surface allowing maximum visual clarity, while ensuring the connections looked as seamless as possible.

The glazing is mounted to a minimalistic steel frame using fittings that were engineered to be as slender as possible, giving the clearest possible view of the sky and allowing light to flood the rooms.

The double-glazed units are made up of a 10mm-thick outer pane of Pilkington Optifloat Clear, a 16mm air-filled cavity, and a 13.5mm-thick laminated inner pane of Pilkington K Glass low-emissivity thermally efficient glass.

The laminated pane uses the Pilkington SentryGlas interlayer, which is five times stronger than conventional laminating materials and will ensure the lanterns are able to stand up to significant forces, such as snow-loading during winter, the company said.

Glazing installer OJ Taffinder started working on the project in 2017 and made numerous site visits to ensure a safe installation.

As the roof wasn’t strong enough to support the weight of the glass on stillages, it was decided that the best option was to transport the glass through the building before moving it into position on automated hoists with temporary scaffolding and crash decks in place.

The glass was delivered on Water Street before being offloaded and transported on ramps erected by the contractor to the first floor using a Nomad quattrolift with four vacuum pads. OJ Taffinder incorporated a hoisting rail into the scaffolding, which was 7m meters above the rooflights, where an electric hoist was used to lift the glass from the first floor into the steel structure.

Ollie Taffinder, director at OJ Taffinder, said: “Liverpool India Buildings was a huge project for us, and a lot of time went into planning and sourcing the correct scaffolding and hoists, due to the complexity of the installation.

“On all projects, safety is paramount, but even more so when working on such a complicated job. By collaborating with all involved we were able to ensure a swift and safe glazing installation.”

Alex Harrison, senior architect at Falconer Chester Hall, said: “This project has been monumental, and nothing has been standard. The rooflights that previously occupied the Regency Suite and Banking Hall were not original and were made of polycarbonate, so we were keen to improve on this feature as part of the renovation.

“Even though the rooflights themselves haven’t changed in size, technological advances in glazing resulted in the rooms becoming even brighter than they previously were, overall, making the space much more desirable.”

Gary Stonelake, business development manager at Pilkington UK, said: “Collaboration has been vital to many aspects of this project. Everyone involved has had to work closely together and find solutions to meet the requirements of this iconic building.”