Shaping the Shard: spider crane scales Europe’s tallest building

2 May 2012 (Last Updated May 2nd, 2012 18:30)

London’s newest landmark, the Shard, owes a substantial amount of its construction to a comparatively tiny crane. Liam Stoker takes a look at the incredible work accomplished by GGR’s Unic spider crane during the completion of Europe’s tallest building.

Standing at 310m tall, the Shard has been Europe’s tallest building since December 2011, and as it inches towards its public opening in June 2012, only now can the true scale of its construction be understood.


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Comprising of premium office space, a hotel, luxury residences, retail spaces, restaurants, a 15-storey public viewing gallery and a spa, the Shard promises to not only dominate London’s skyline from its location on the south bank, but also offer something for everyone.

The sheer magnitude of the task involved in constructing Europe’s tallest building cannot be ignored, and the machinery used to facilitate this construction has now come to light.

GGR’s Unic spider crane, with a load capacity of three tons, might not be the largest crane in construction, but its unique design and attributes make it perfect for the often perilous task at hand, perched atop the Shard’s summit.

Scaling London’s Shard using GGR’s mini spider crane

London, The Shard.

The part-assembled crane is lifted into place from the building’s main construction crane, taking it some 283 metres into position. Tasked with fitting glass panels into place to form the Shard’s exterior, which has been designed to reflect London’s iconic skyline, the Unic URW-706 mini spider crane provided essential support to a team of abseiling glaziers.

London, the Shard.

Due to the building’s unique shape, specialist machinery was required to carry out specific tasks and construction workers made full use of the spider crane’s capabilities. As well as assisting with the fitting of glass panels, the crane also helped by providing lifting power in order to level wing wall beams and poles at the end of the Shard’s fractures.

Spider crane.

The boom is lifted towards the summit of the Shard separately and fitted onto the crane’s body onsite at the 87th floor. The backdrop of London, with the London Eye and Houses of Parliament situated in the background, gives a sense of perspective at the sheer scale of the operation. The spider crane was lifted into place in January 2012, and was in place for eleven weeks as work was carried out.

Spinning webs: spider-like capabilities of the Unic URW-706 crane

URW-706 crane.

The spider tag originates from its design when fully assembled. Its four outstretched legs provide support for the machine during operation. The model used atop the Shard, the URW-706, has a total width of just 1.6m, but a maximum working radium of 18.6m, making it perfectly designed for work at the summit of skyscrapers with designs similar to the Shard. Outriggers on the base of the crane were positioned to the exact millimetre using a radio remote control.

Unic spider crane scaling the Shard.

From its comparatively small frame, the URW-706 is capable of providing six tons of lifting power with a maximum hook height of 22.7m when using an optional 3.1m-long fly jib. The crane was originally enlisted in order to accelerate the installation of the final sections of glazing, with all cranes needing to be removed from London’s skyline before the start of the 2012 Olympic Games in July.

Crane on London's Shard building.

The crane’s final operational height atop the final floor deck stood at 283m, making the Unic spider crane the highest ever compact crane in the UK. Gill Riley, GGR managing director, said: "This iconic landmark is going to make a big impact across the London skyline and we are thrilled our cranes have been a part of this exciting project.

"It’s definitely the highest point we’ve ever taken one of our Unic cranes to, luckily our operators that are working onsite have a good head for heights."

Unique machinery used for building an iconic landmark

GGR's Unic crane.

Due to its pyramid-like shape and the Shard’s lower floors being larger than its higher ones, the comparatively long boom length of the crane helped lift panels from storage located on the 62nd floor and onto the upper levels of the north and west sides. Up to 11,000 angled glass panels will make up the Shard’s exterior, constituting the façade of the building.

Shard against London backdrop.

The Shard’s title as tallest building in Europe is not set to last for long, however. The Mercury City Tower, currently under construction in Moscow, Russia, is expected to stand at around 332m when completed towards the end of 2012. By March 22 2012, the tower had reportedly reached a height of 310.80m, taller than the height of the Shard upon completion.

London's Shard is one of Europe's tallest buildings.

With its work completed, Unic’s spider crane has now returned to ground level. It assisted specialist abseiling glaziers in the fitting of a total of 440 glass panels. Although some time was lost due to high winds at the summit of the building, work was able to be stepped up to ensure the crane’s task was completed on schedule.

Amazing views of the Shard and London's skyline.

As the Shard inches towards its projected completion date of July, the skyscraper has already started to dominate London’s skyline. The Shard stands substantially taller than its nearest completed competitor, One Canada Square, which stands at 235m. Although Bishopsgate Tower was originally designed to be exactly one metre taller than the Shard, the plans were scaled back following Civil Aviation Authority concerns, meaning it will now reach 288m when completed.


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