When I was growing up, there was a notable demolition contractor called Syd Bishop that worked across large areas of Greater London. All of their vehicles had the company name emblazoned in red, white and blue, along with the motto ‘Watch It Come Down’. The demolition work they were (and still are) undertaking could create some dramatic spectacles, with explosives and giant wrecking balls demolishing structures which used to loom large in urban environments and familiar skylines. People came out to watch buildings fall down out of sheer curiosity in the same way Fred Dibnah could draw huge crowds as he cleared the chimneys of Bolton and Bradford.
As a team specialising in the repair and adaptive re-use of existing buildings, demolition is usually something we actively try to avoid. Embodied energy within existing structures and materials often makes a compelling case as part of a wider sustainability agenda to establish new uses to continue the life of a building, rather than to drop it and replace with something new.
However, we have commenced on site this week with the demolition of the South Silo structure at Ditherington Flax Mill Maltings. The silo, constructed in the 1950’s was part of the large scale mechanisation of the maltings operation, which the Flax Mill was latterly converted to operate as during most of the twentieth century. During our masterplan thinking for the site, many options were considered for the 8-storey silo, but none could be considered anywhere near economically viable; the visual impact and the relatively fragile physical condition of the silo, both within the historic mill site and the wider suburban context also suggested that removing it would be a positive move for the future economic regeneration of the area.
Demolishing the silo is a remarkable task, made complicated by its size and the fact it is positioned within a metre of listed buildings on either side. Following full archaeological recording sophisticated remote-controlled drill breakers will be positioned at the top of each of the 15 internal cylindrical silos on platforms which will brace themselves against the side walls with hydraulic rams, deconstructing the reinforced concrete into small pieces as they slowly move down – a sort of reverse slip-form construction technique. Vibration monitoring devices will mitigate the risk of damage to the adjacent buildings, along with a host of temporary engineering support and physical protection measures.
This contract is a good news story as it heralds real enabling contractor activity on the Flax Mill Maltings site and signals the commencement of HLF and ERDF-funded phases of work to deal with the historic buildings.
The demolition of the South Silo is generating a lot of interest; BBC radio crews and local newspapers have been keen to interview key members of the team, and local residents have been very interested to see the site during recent open days. Few expect to mourn the loss of the structure and it would seem that people still like to ‘watch it come down’.