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Tower of Light and the Wall of Energy– A Shell Lace Structure, Pioneered By Tonkin Liu


For a low-carbon energy center in Manchester, England, the architecture firm Tonkin Liu has designed a bio-mimetic tower – The Tower of Light and the Wall of Energy – with flues and a sculptural wall constructed of tiles in organic shapes. 

The Civic Quarter Heat Network and Energy Centre in the city includes Tonkin Liu’s architectural interventions and offers low-carbon energy to a network of significant sites around the neighborhood. 

The goal of The Tower of Light and the Wall of Energy is to turn the area next to Manchester Central Station into a landmark that celebrates the cutting-edge technology used to produce and distribute cleaner & greener energy. 

Two gas boilers and a combined heat and power engine are housed within the 40-meter-tall Tower of Light’s flues, which direct hot air away from them. It is illuminated like a lighthouse at night and was created to serve as a visible reflection of the project’s environmental agenda. 

Tower of Light and the Wall of Energy – Project Highlights 

  • Client: Manchester City Council and Vital Energi 
  • Location: Manchester, UK 
  • Status: Completed February 2022 
  • Structural Engineer: Arup 
  • Lighting Consultant: SEAM Design 
  • Steelwork Fabricator: Shawton Engineering 
  • Lead Architect: Mike Tonkin
  • Tile Manufacturer: Darwen Terracotta 
  • The wall is covered in 1,373 Tiles 
  • Laser-cut steel sheets encircle the tower 
  • LED lights illuminate the tower at night 
  • The meshes in the steel sheets grow larger as you get closer to the top of the tower 

The Tower of Light and the Wall of Energy, developed in partnership with Manchester City Council and Vital Energy, produce a new low-carbon CHP energy center in Manchester’s Civic Quarter. The £20 million energy center will provide combined heat and power to a number of iconic buildings in the city’s Civic Quarter Heat Network. The energy center itself contains a 3.3Mwe CHP engine and two 12MW gas boilers; the technology hopes to save 1,600 tonnes of carbon emissions per year, contributing to the city’s goal of becoming zero carbon by 2038. 

Tower of Light and the Wall of Energy – The Largest Shell Lace Structure 

Tower of Light 

Video Source: Tonkin Liu

This is the largest built Shell Lace Structure till date. A new low-carbon energy center in Manchester’s city centre is supported and enclosed by The Tower of Light, a 40-meter-tall tower 

The Shell Lace Structure, which Tonkin Liu invented and worked on for ten years in partnership with engineers at Arup, served as the foundation for the biomimetic structure. The tower’s shape serves as its strength, drawing inspiration from natural geometry. The single-surface, ultra-lightweight structure achieves the most with the least amount of material.  

The tower is made of 6 and 8mm thick flat steel sheets that have been customized, laser-cut, and then joined together to form a sturdy, curving surface. The Shell Lace Structure innovation has been made possible by contemporary building techniques that integrate principles of tailoring with cutting-edge digital modeling, analysis, and production. 

According to Tonkin Liu Studio, The Tower of light will – “capture the energy of the sun, harness the power of the wind, and herald the city’s low carbon future 

The Wall of Energy

The new energy center is enclosed by The Wall of Energy, a 63-meter long, 4- to 6-meter-tall street façade. Clouds in the sky, as well as the activity of people and vehicles on the streets, are reflected in the light and motion of the glazed ceramic tiles. The interlocking lozenge tile pattern’s tessellated design symbolizes the dynamic energy of the earth’s movements, as seen in the patterns that waves in the ocean leave in the sand. Over a total of 1373 tiles, the 31 various tile kinds create undulations that get progressively taller. The technological operation of the new energy center hall is visible through a long ribbon window, which is housed inside a building that was inspired by nature. 

Sustainable Architecture – A Low Energy Center  

The Tower of Light uses very little energy to stay lit. Daytime sunlight is reflected into the tower’s chambers by polished reflectors within, which move in the wind and fill the tower with moving light. Every quarter-hour during the night, LED lights pointed at the reflectors produce animated, programmed light sequences to signal the passing of time. In addition to reflecting streetlights and the light from passing cars, the Wall of Energy is enlivened at night by integrated programmable light. The Tower and Wall are illuminated in coordinated color displays on certain occasions throughout the year to commemorate cultural events. 

Both the tower and the wall were constructed by Tonkin Liu in collaboration with regional fabricators. The final stitch-welding on the tower was done by the two most skilled welders from Shawton Engineering, which made the tower. The ceramic tiles were produced by Darwen Terracotta, one of the oldest and most reputable terracotta businesses in the UK. 

The Civic Quarter in Manchester now has access to low-carbon energy thanks to the opening of the Civic Quarter Heat Network (CQHN) and Energy Centre. The 2 km-long network offers a highly efficient supply of heat and power.  

The Energy Centre has two 12MW gas boilers and a 3.3MWe CHP engine, and it has the capacity to incorporate new energy technologies without affecting supply. The CHP engine’s heat is used to generate hot water, which is then supplied throughout the municipal network via insulated district piping. The innovation increases energy efficiency by up to 45%, saving Manchester 1,600 tonnes of carbon emissions annually and helping the city reach its zero-carbon target by 2038. 

A striking new entrance into Manchester’s historic quarter is created by the finished Tower of Light and Wall of Energy. They come together to create an all-encompassing energy landmark that engages communities with the cutting-edge technologies at the core of Manchester’s low-carbon goal and Climate Change Action Plan. 

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We collaborate with our customers around the world to develop bespoke business solutions using our enormous engineering talent pool and state-of-the-art technology. To deliver long-term engineering and business strategies, we align with your culture and processes to create an unbreakable partnership. With over 500 full-time employees and more than 600 customers in the US, Europe, India, and Asia, we are poised for the next level of success. 

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