Constructionarium, Mini-Gherkin, Norfolk

Constructionarium, Mini-Gherkin

Structural Engineer


Steelwork Contractor


Main Contractor




The mini-Gherkin project resonates with anyone who knows about the Constructionarium – it is a hit with everyone and makes everyone smile. One of the main benefits of the Constructionarium can be described as ‘engineering delight’. When combined with the popularity of the original Swiss Re Tower (The Gherkin) in London, the delight associated with the Constructionarium’s mini-Gherkin is intense and infectious. It has generated a feel-good factor amongst a key group who are essential to the future of steel engineering: the next generation of civil engineers, builders and steelwork contractors.

Imperial College London needed a steelwork contractor who would be willing to donate the steel and fabricate it for their 4-storey version of The Gherkin tower for the benefit of a major engineering education initiative. The initial drawings for the tower were designed by Expedition Engineering, structural engineers, whilst the construction site supervision plus supply of most other materials, plant and equipment was to be by John Doyle Construction Ltd. The Gherkin project had been in mind for a long time but steel fabrication and erection expertise was needed to make it feasible for a short, sharp Constructionarium student experience.

This project is an educational project and addresses the need to minimise waste. The ability to use and re-use the ‘project kit’ for the mini-Gherkin makes it highly attractive as an environmentally-friendly educational project. The main waste associated with the project is the need to demolish the concrete foundation that the students lay for the steel tower, although the national steering committee for the Constructionarium is addressing improved ways to deal with such waste, through recycling as aggregate or use in landfill. The student project is intended to be constructed, dismantled and reconstructed, time after time. The steel has been treated to assist its durability and exposure to weather. The ‘kit-building’ aspect is intentional in that it allows the structural steel to be stored to maximise durability.

Benefits achieved by using steel construction:

  • Steel tower in kit form, ensures a large structure can be built in days
  • Trial erection at Caunton’s factory meant that Caunton, Imperial and their main contractor partner, John Doyle Construction, could rehearse what the students would be doing and anticipate difficulties
  • The simplicity of the steel erection process means that the challenge to the students can be increased by giving them a larger scale of structure to build: the four-storey (12m) structure is double the height of the previous tallest freestanding structure built at the Constructionarium
  • The large scale of the project, by student standards, means that students were faced with real issues of working with cranes, scaffolders and the need to get the first stage (setting out and laying foundations) correct within the steel tolerances

The fabrication was carried out by Caunton’s Apprentices, based in the Caunton Engineering Academy, and the challenge proved a marvellous opportunity for the Academy to hone and show its skills.

Judges’ Comment


This construction “kit” of tubular steelwork, replicates the frame of the “Gherkin” building in London. The steelwork contractor donated the steel which was fabricated in his apprentice academy, and Imperial College and the NCC have nurtured the scheme. Undergraduate training in the hands-on management and execution of projects is now supported by an increasing number of universities.

The steelwork itself is modest, but the spin-off from this novel initiative is impressive and praiseworthy.