Warburg Renaissance: Interview with Quinn London Senior Project Manager Robert Davies

The Warburg Renaissance building project is progressing at a steady pace, having commenced in July 2022. The refurbishment of the building is being carried out in three phases, including the construction of a two-storey extension in the courtyard.

The Warburg Renaissance will restore the Institute’s original mixture of discovery, display and debate, and open its holdings and expertise to new audiences. The £14.5m renovation will enhance the Institute’s academic resources and teaching spaces and create new facilities for special collections, exhibitions, and events.

In this blog post, we chatted to Robert Davies, Senior Project Manager from the project's Main Contractor, Quinn London, to find out more about the building project including what some of the challenges have been and what Robert is most looking forward to seeing in the new design. 

Could you tell us a bit about your role in the building project?

As Senior Project Manager I’m responsible for the overall safety, direction and coordination of the build until completion. To achieve this I am supported by (in no particular order) - the Health and Safety team (SHEQ), a Senior Quantity Surveyor, Design Manager, MEP manager, Document Controller, Site Manager, Assistant Site Manager and Site Supervisor.

A key part of my role, particularly on a live project such as this, is to build a strong relationship with the Warburg communications team so that the building users are kept informed of upcoming works. To aide this, I meet weekly and talk regularly with Andrew Beach (Warburg Renaissance Project Communications) to keep him updated with any changes to agreed plans.

Construction is a very complex business and highly pressured so clear communication with all stakeholders is vital to a successful project.

Architectural Model of the new Lecture Room and Special Collections Reading Room

What are you most excited about in the Warburg Renaissance building design?

Self compacting concrete sample produced in the courtyard

I’m particularly excited with the new build extension (which will contain the new Lecture Room and Special Collections Reading Room). I’m a big fan of fair faced concrete and this building is going to have some great features, such as the elliptical ceiling structure which is going to look stunning in the new lecture theatre.

Working with concrete can throw up many challenges and we are very keen to get the quality right.  

We have recently agreed with the design team to change the specification to a self compacting concrete. A sample of this was produced in the courtyard and we’re delighted with the results.

We’re also excited to see the ground floor opened and completed as this will be the biggest transformation to the existing floors.

With the third and fourth floors of the building now refurbished, what's the next stage of the project?

The foundations for the new extension in the courtyard

We’re now working on phase 2, which is the 1st and 2nd floors of the building.

Strip out is nearing completion and some areas are already being fitted out. You may have seen in the courtyard that things are progressing nicely with the extension. Foundations and lower ground floor slab are now in so we can start progressing with the main structure. You will also see a large amount of the scaffolding start to come down but we will need to leave up the hoist sections on our compound side up for access to phase 2 and the temporary staircase on the Torrington square side will also have to stay in until the new escape staircase is installed in the courtyard.

Have you come across any surprising discoveries?

As with all Heritage projects and working with existing buildings, you can never tell 100% what you are going to find. Many surveys are undertaken prior to works commencing but until you get full access you tend to find that there is more work to do.

Brokk - Darda 170 demolition robot with electric drive

This is why Quinn were keen to get scaffolding up to the perimeter, early in the project to help de-risk the programme. The demolition of the brick walls has been particularly hard as, although not structural, they are extremely tough.

The phase 3 ground floor walls are going to be the most challenging as there is a lot more masonry to remove than the previous phases. We hope to undertake this using what’s called a ‘Brokk’ robotic breaker. This has many advantages as it’s safer and much more efficient.

Have there been any challenges along the way? How were these tackled?

Digging up the Warburg Institute courtyard in order to lay the foundations for the extension

Working in a live building is always challenging and the Warburg has been no exception. We have strict noisy working periods that we have to adhere to and unfortunately, on occasion, some operatives have been a little forgetful, so we apologise for that. We always try and deal with issues immediately.

Now that we are out of the ground in the courtyard there is a lot less risk to the programme. As some may be aware, we found additional reinforced concrete in the ground that needed to be broken out. We have also discovered that some of the existing drainage is in disrepair and will need to be replaced. To keep things on schedule we have shuttered off the area of the slab affected so works to the main structure can be progressed concurrently.

What other building projects have you worked on that you are proud of and why?

I have been very fortunate over the years to have managed some very prestigious, award winning projects, such as the Bletchley Park restoration, Gunnersbury Park mansion and surrounding parkland and most recently The Museum of the Home which has been shortlisted for a RIBA award. Images of these projects can be viewed on our hoarding outside the Warburg's main entrance.

I’m also very proud to be working on the Warburg Renaissance project and really pleased with how things are progressing.

Gunnersbury Park © Quinn London

> Find out more about the Warburg Renaissance


Robert Davies has over 20 years of experience in the construction industry, specialising in the refurbishment, restoration and conservation of historic buildings. His trade is carpentry and joinery, but he has progressed to project managing complex and high-profile schemes such as Bletchley Park and Chatham Historic Dockyard.

Robert's recent achievements include successfully completing a prestigious £18.5m Heritage project to redevelop the parkland structures and surrounding landscaping of Gunnersbury Park Mansion, and a £12.6m refurbishment of the Museum of the Home's (formally Geffrye Museum) existing building, new entrance, two new extensions and landscaping.