Man who unblocked London’s V&A Museum named Construction Manager of the Year

For his leadership in delivering the Victoria and Albert Museum’s £48m new gallery, courtyard and entrance in South Kensington, London, Neil Lock MCIOB, of Wates Construction, has been awarded Construction Manager of the Year at the CIOB’s annual celebration of construction professionals.

Neil Lock MCIOB, with his prize (CIOB)

Formerly the museum’s unsightly boilerhouse yard, the new space created an overdue opening to the public on London’s famous Exhibition Road.

Beating this year’s 63 finalists to the trophy, Lock impressed judges with his handling of the complex project in a constrained urban location, surrounded by priceless artefacts.

Just over three years in construction, and designed by the practice of Stirling Prize-winning architect Amanda Levete, the V&A’s new Exhibition Road Quarter opened to fanfare in June 2017 (pictured above).

It was the museum’s biggest architectural intervention in more than 100 years, and the V&A hailed it as a "beautiful and unique new civic space for London", featuring the world’s first all-porcelain courtyard and a striking, 1,100-sq-m, column-free new gallery for visiting exhibitions.

But while the public can enjoy the pleasant and inspiring new space, it was the job of the CMYA judges to assess the planning and skill it took to build it.

A measure of the complexity lies in the fact that the project, its contract valued at £38m, necessitated 6,000 lorry movements through a single entrance onto the busy Exhibition Road, a major London artery.

There was "groundworks horror" with a full-perimeter secant wall piled 25m deep for a 16m-deep basement gallery just two metres away from unique, priceless artefacts in a grade I-listed building.

Before: The old boilerhouse yard blocked the public on Exhibition Road (V&A Museum)

Structural work on the new Sainsbury Gallery – the largest columnless gallery in Europe, built from 40m-long single-span trusses weighing 12 tonnes apiece – was described as "purgatory".

And in demolishing existing buildings on the site in the old boilerhouse yard, the team was bound by "merciless tolerances", with just 5mm of movement allowed for an existing masonry structure a metre away.

To top it off, there were close to 1,000 change requests to process.

The nomination described the project as "intense, testing and time-consuming", but noted that Neil was exhilarated, thrilled and inspired by the experience. He said "it was more dream project than the nightmare in the making it might suggest to mere mortals."

"The skills of all the medal winners have been tested to the limit and I congratulate all of them. But this years’ winner has achieved something truly remarkable," said CIOB President Chris Soffe. "A challenging, high-profile project, pulled off with skill, expertise and great leadership is rightly being recognised."

CIOB Chief Executive Chris Blythe OBE said: "CMYA has always been a unique barometer for management, and leadership, talent in our sector and in our 40th year it’s been no exception. We’ve had professionals working on projects of all shapes and sizes challenging for a place as a medal winner. Competition was fierce but Neil stood out for the judges with an outstanding combination of technical expertise, professionalism and brilliant communication skills."

John F Kane FCIOB, one of the judges, said: "Neil delivered this incredibly challenging project which wowed the judges with its complex geometries, sensitive neighbours and logistical challenges, all overcome by a committed and professional project leader who delivered with exceptional results."

Top image: The V&A’s new Exhibition Road Quarter opened to fanfare in June 2017, featuring the world’s first all-porcelain courtyard and a striking, 1,100-sq-m, column-free new gallery for visiting exhibitions (V&A Museum)

In other museum news:

Story for GCR? Get in touch via email: [email protected]

Latest articles in News