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A disused office block in the heart of Portsmouth has been transformed into 153 apartments thanks to the expertise of Vale Southern Construction.

The Brief

Originally built in the 1960s, this former office building had been derelict for three decades. Located in the ‘The Hard’ adjacent to Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth, the 11-storey property was acquired by Makepeace Investments and plans were approved to convert and upgrade the building.

A total of 153 apartments formed part of the design brief, primarily aimed at students. The project also required the construction of two retail units on the ground floor.

Creating an imposing building

Following a competitive tender, Vale Southern was appointed for the design and build contract. This saw the team enhance the exterior of the building with a new roof and masonry for the curtain walling system. All windows were replaced with high-specification Schuco windows combined with green glazed panels to bring colour to the scheme.

The windows were manufactured using anodised aluminium on the outside to increase durability and improve aesthetics. Following a design recommendation from Vale Southern, a polyester powder was used to coat the inside of the windows enabling any future repairs to be carried out more easily and cost effectively.

Internally, Vale Southern converted the former office space into new flats, including studios with designated study areas, and apartments with ensuite bathrooms. Mechanical and electrical services were installed plus two lifts. The entrance area was remodelled and shells created for the retail units.

Overcoming challenges

The building’s location near the seafront presented several challenges. Access was severely restricted, requiring a well worked design for scaffolding including material hoists front and back. Careful planning of deliveries were required due to the location and limited material storage onsite.

Extensive scaffolding was constructed for the external façade which was designed to allow the windows to be fitted from the outside and internal works to proceed. Adverse weather conditions and strong winds demanded a very robust structure as well as heavy-duty scaffolding sheeting.

The pandemic resulted in further hurdles, including a limited workforce and access to materials. The team’s working hours were also restricted to respect the client’s orthodox Judaism with no building work permitted during the Sabbath or Jewish holidays.

Engaging with the local community

To make sure local people were kept informed of the works, Vale Southern organised a letter drop at the beginning of the project. Regular newsletters were distributed as the project progressed, providing the latest construction updates.

As pedestrians frequently pass the building, construction information was also made available online via a QR code at the front of the site.

Vale Southern also organised site visits for local students at the nearby University of Portsmouth, providing insights into the skills needed to work on busy construction sites and benefits of working in the industry.

Back to life

All challenges were overcome to deliver the project on budget, breathing new life into the prominent building. The homes have proved popular with students seeking high quality accommodation in the heart of the city.


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