The Ewart Building, Belfast

Antrim Electrical & Mechanical Engineers Ltd was chosen by design and build contractor McAleer & Rushe to supply and manage the electrical installation at The Ewart Building. AEM was responsible for the mechanical installation as well. The project is a great example of bringing the old charm of Belfast and new technologies together, as it provided a comprehensive refurbishment and extension of a 150-year-old former warehouse that had been derelict for decades and a new 17-storey Grade A office building in the heart of the city’s business district. 

AEM is no stranger to shining a light on historical landmarks. The company’s portfolio includes the Parliament Building in Stormont, the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum in Belfast, and the Athlumney House in Navan. “As with any project in listed buildings, there were special requirements from the conservation architects at the Historic Environment Division,” commented AEM Contract Manager Steven Magill. “We had to modify our installation to comply with them and avoid destroying the fabric on the exterior of the building, as well as the historical features in its interior.” To follow these requirements, AEM concealed the installation in bulkheads and implemented the exterior lights from the inside out, to make them as invisible as possible. 

Due to the restraints of the historical building, all new material and equipment were brought over via the new office tower, which is connected to the warehouse in the first and second floors. “It was quite an arduous process, as well as working in very small, tight spaces,” Steven explained. 

In with the new

In comparison to the warehouse building, the work in the new office tower was more straightforward. The building has been equipped with the latest green tech, such as solar panels on the roof and a combined heat and power (CHP) unit in the basement, which helps create electricity and heat onsite to reduce grid dependency. 

Technology also came in handy with the use of 3-D modelling for both buildings. “Even when you have blueprints and drawings, the electrician may install it differently. With the 3-D modelling, however, a simple change wrecks everything else, as the model is very accurate,” Steven said. “It is a great way to ensure precision throughout the install.” 

Dream team

The human factor also played a major role in the project’s success. The development involved about 15 sub-contractors, which were chosen based on quality, cost-benefit, and the ability to deliver such a large-scale project on time. 

With so many companies and people involved, Steven highlighted good working relationships and effective communication as the key components to make everything work on-site. “We have been on both sides of the fence, and communication is crucial,” he stated. “At AEM we worked very closely with everyone in the office and met every two days, to then relay all the information to McAleer & Rushe. We also had daily meetings with the project managers and contractors on-site. There was a lot of talking and it seemed to work, as everything was completed on time and within budget.”

Stunning result

In its 37 years of history, AEM has worked on many similar projects to The Ewart building, and Steven has been with the company for 20 years, but the development was also an example that lessons can still be learned. “Today I wish we had got to the site earlier, before any work had started, from a planning point of view,” he explained. This has already been considered for the company’s next project, in yet another historical building: the refurbishment of the Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast.

Steven couldn’t be more satisfied with the result of the development. “Growing up, I remember seeing The Ewart looking derelict and now, having worked on it and seeing it all changed, I am very proud of it,” he commented. “When you see it all lit up, and the building coming alive, it is absolutely stunning.”

Antrim Electrical & Mechanical Engineers Ltd was established in 1985 and is ranked as one of Ireland’s foremost electrical and mechanical building services and facility management contractors. AEM Ltd has built its foundation upon innovation, dedication, and potential clients within the private and public sectors. The company’s main objective is to strive to be the best within this competitive industry.

For the full feature on The Ewart, check out Issue 93 of Ireland’s Electrical Magazine here.

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