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Environmentally-friendly building uses a modular wiring system

Birmingham City Council’s new office is the council’s largest single investment in a new workplace in over a century and is the most environmentally friendly council building ever commissioned.

Birmingham City Council’s new office

The building is designed to be rated as ‘Excellent’ according to the British Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM - 2006). It boasts seven sustainability features ranging from Combined Heating and Power (CHP) through to rainwater harvesting and a brown roof for wildlife.

It forms part of the council’s business transformation programme and the ‘Working For The Future’ (WFTF) programme is specifically reviewing how the council uses its property resource.

WFTF is helping council employees to work in new, more efficient ways so that they can deliver better and more effective services to the people of Birmingham.

Part of that drive for greater effectiveness comes from building flexibility into the new office design. This Woodcock Street office development will accommodate in the region of 2,200 fixed desks over five storeys together with a further 500 ‘touchdown’ work areas within the building to enable maximum flexibility of the space.

This desire for flexibility has partly been made possible by the use of modular and lighting distribution systems from Modular Wiring Systems, a subsidiary of electrical cable manufacturer Tratos Ltd.

Modular Wiring Systems designed, manufactured off-site and supplied multi-functional power and lighting distribution systems with standard Point to Point and switching and DALI control for the new offices.

A modular wiring system is a rapid and easily installed modular distribution system prefabricated off-site; the system is essentially the circuit lines of a traditional scheme.

Unlike standard builds where the distribution systems are installed from the bottom-up with cables running under false ceilings, the Woodcock Street office installation has been a top to bottom installation. Power is fed from above and cables have been run through raised flooring as there are no false ceilings.

The second floor was a particular challenge, with all cabling fed under an acoustic canopy. Although the home run cables contain nine circuits, they are no greater than 30mm in diameter, with extender cables 13mm and MDBs just 80mm deep. The conduit has an excellent bending radius whilst protecting the cores, reducing the chance of damage and allowing for longer lengths. This in turn allows for greater flexibility in the system design.

As a result of the unusual design, flexibility of products and the methods of installation were vital, which Modular Wiring Systems was able to meet. The design of a modular wiring system allows for a complete installation, from the pre wired plug in distribution board (all wired internally) to the furthest point of a circuit, by simply connecting the system components together, without any hardwired connections. Conduits containing all the cables of the system have a plug mechanism on the end which simply slots into the board. The system is normally colour-coded, so it couldn’t be easier to work out what plugs in to where.

In fact, so intuitive are its systems to install that the contractor on the project, who had never installed a prefabricated distribution system before, was able to undertake the work with minimal training in a very short space of time.

This speed of installation was vital due to the extremely tight schedule and completion date. Modular Wiring Systems has carried out many comparative studies and believe an installation can be achieved up to 80% quicker than traditional methods and uses up to 70% less labour.

The sustainability factor inherent in a Modular Wiring System was an ideal match for the Woodcock Street office. As the system is manufactured off-site, there is no requirement for cutting and fabrication on site, thus reducing wastage, as well as cost. An added benefit of prefabrication is quality control as the entire system is manufactured in a factory controlled environment.

The contract was undertaken by Midlands-based contractor Thomas Vale Construction as part of the council’s construction framework contract, the Birmingham Construction Partnership.

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