The Lowry, Salford Quays, Manchester

The Lowry, Salford Quays, Manchester


Michael Wilford & Partners Ltd

Structural Engineer

Buro Happold

Steelwork Contractor

William Hare Ltd

Main Contractor

Bovis Lend Lease


The Lowrie Centre Trust

The Lowry project on Salford Quays has been designated the Nation’s Landmark Millennium Project for the Arts. The Lowry consists of two theatres, two galleries and various facilities for conferences and general hospitality.

In the Lyric Theatre two rows of columns based approximately 3m apart set out on an oval grid as defined by sight lines and linked back to shear walls by curved steel beams were used to provide the transverse stability. These columns were used to support cantilevered trusses which in turn supported the seating. The central core columns and beams were painted with intumescent paint to satisfy the one-hour fire rating requirements.

Set on the outside perimeter of the leaning concrete wall, the Lyric Foyer provides access from the theatre entrances to the galleries and exits. The roof beam consists of a plated 610 deep beam cut to suit the architect’s requirements. The difficulty of connecting this to the cruciform column which was made up from a 356 UC with Ts welded to the web was overcome by means of a tubular insert welded to the top of the column.

This Adaptable Foyer comprises four cruciform columns made from four 120 x 120 SHS welded together. These in turn support a tree top configuration made from tapered beams out of 610 UCs. The tapered beams supported 165 UC purlins which in turn supported the metal decking roof. A curved 152 RSC formed the edge support.

The two Galleries comprise longitudinal trusses supported on 322 x 25 CHS columns with the bottom boom supporting first floor cell beams and the top boom supporting similar transverse roof trusses. The connections had to be kept as clean as possible to satisfy the architect’s requirements for clear uncomplicated lines as the steelwork is visible both internally and externally.

The Diagrid Tower is used to house the artwork when not in use the architect required this to be the highest visible feature using symmetrical steel beams to form a cylindrical shape with no connections visible on the perimeter. Four beams connected together formed a facetted diamond shape and this pattern was repeated around the cylinder and from bottom to top.

Set at the entrance to the Lowry, the Canopy was designed as an imposing architectural feature as well as a functional structural item. Supported on two sets of A-frame legs with six smaller CHS supports the structure consists of a central toblerone shaped truss on which are supported frames with a sloping top boom and curved bottom boom to give the architect’s required shape. This structure was covered in perforated cladding.

Why Steel? The design team recognised from the outset that the structure had to satisfy both structural and architectural requirements. The geometry of the structure with its various leaning walls, cylindrical shapes and large spans meant that for the majority of the structural framing, steel was the only logical choice.

Despite its complex nature the engineers could design the structure confident that the steelwork would achieve their requirements within the tolerances required.

From an installation perspective steelwork was the only logical choice due to the limited nature of the space available on site. Vast areas of space were not required for temporary support/propping during installation as the steel frame was designed to be stable within its own right and installed in a manner to minimise any temporary bracing required. The speed of erection also confirmed steel as the correct material for the structural framing.

Judges’ Comment


A prestigious project of great complexity, incorporating two theatres, galleries and support services. The exposed structural steelwork in many areas has been innovatively fire engineered. The combination of steelwork and stainless steel cladding is very effective.
The public already shows great enthusiasm and appreciation for this building, which displays steelwork to good effect.