Building wraps are among the most striking applications in the industry, with each project requiring meticulous planning and a high level of production quality to succeed. LFR speaks with Greg Forster, Managing Director of Embrace Building Wraps, about the secrets of producing an award-winning building wrap…
- The SBQ project won a Gold Award at the 2022 UK Graphics Awards
- Embrace staff installed the SBQ wrap entirely off ropes, without using any mobile elevating work platforms
- Embrace works with a network of partners to repurpose old building wrap materials in sectors such as the agricultural industry
Whether it is a simple wrap covering a relatively small structure, or a gigantic piece of print installed on a towering skyscraper, there is no doubting the impressive nature of building wraps. To be able to produce such a large piece of work at high quality, not to mention a printed application that is strong enough to stand up to the elements, is no easy task.
Further still, to be recognised for your work in the form of a major industry award is another matter altogether. Embrace Building Wraps was last year celebrated for a large-scale building wrap project at the UK Graphics Awards, where it won the Gold Award in the Construction Category, sponsored by LFR.
The project in question was a 4,000msq m printed building wrap on the SBQ Building Smallbrook Queensway in Birmingham. Located in the city centre, SBQ is a Grade B locally listed, six-storey 1960s brutalist property that is 230m long and features a gently sweeping elevation. The curved concrete-clad building provides street-level commercial space and walkways with office space above.
Embrace was tasked by client Commercial Estates Group (CEG) with producing an eye-catching wrap for the building, as well as at several other locations in the city, to promote Birmingham’s hosting of the 2022 Commonwealth Games. The wrap at SBQ was created to cover renovation work that was taking place at the building ahead of the Games, with the idea of disguising unsightly construction work while at the same time promoting Birmingham’s status as the host city.
Far from your standard building wrap application, this project presented Embrace with a whole host of challenges, all of which it was able to overcome to produce a wrap that not only drew praise and attention from local residents, but also a major print industry accolade.
“Working in the heart of any city centre comes with its own set of challenges,” said Greg Forster, Managing Director of Embrace. “Positioned between the A38 ring road to the west and Dudley Street to the east, the busy surrounding area was characterised predominately by a mix of commercial, retail and leisure spaces.
“Our solution comprised a main banner to the curved front elevation measuring 230 x 13m, with a lower-level 70 x 3.4m section, 14 x 13m and 19 x 4m side elevations, and finally a 40 x 13m banner to the rear on the Hurst Street link bridge above the underpass.”
Due to the scale of the largest printed wrap, it was not practical to use one giant banner, so the Embrace team accurately split the install into seven smaller banners, each one measuring around 427sq m. To mask the vertical perimeter detail and ties, Embrace experts used tried-and-tested printed 500mm cover strips with heavy duty Velcro so that the install almost looked like one seamless wrap.
“Another consideration on the complex front elevation was the need to precisely accommodate 49 external lights,” Forster said. “Each light fitting measured 2m wide by 500mm high and needed to remain in-situ, protruding smartly through the printed wraps.
“Embrace accommodated these with a series of perfectly placed envelope style slits with eyelets created in advance in the factory. Once the wrap was guided over the light fittings during installation, the slits were secured back with cable ties.”
The wrap was printed on Embrace’s Durst 512R Plus 5m wide inkjet printer, which prints up to 1200 dpi, using Ollinks ink. The wrap was created using Mesh PVC SeeMee Supreme B3124 and materials were welded together using a Forsstrom 8-TDW.
City centre working
Aside from the challenges of producing such a large and complex wrap, how did Embrace contend with working at a busy city centre location? Firstly, as the project involved working above pavements and roads, certain roads near to the site were closed to allow for work over the underpass.
Embrace also opted to work entirely off ropes, without any mobile elevating work platforms. This required specialist experience and knowledge, something that Embrace was able to offer with its long history of producing large-scale work such as this.
Add in that the Embrace workers installing the wrap were subjected to aggressive seagulls that both attacked and defecated on staff, and that the building was vacant and none of the lifts worked, and it made the final piece all the more impressive.
“Carrying Safecontractor SSIP & Constructionline Gold Level 3 Certification all the Health & Safety is all in hand,” Forster said. “For each project, we have our RAMS and daily toolbox talks. We spend our lives looking at weather forecasts to ensure its safe for our install operatives to work and of course protect the public. Our larger scale projects on buildings and scaffolds are a fully engineered systems with approved drawings and calculations.”
The SBQ wrap came in what was another busy and successful year at Embrace, with revenue having hit the second-highest level since the business opened its doors back in 2006. And if the opening few months of 2023 are anything to go by, then Embrace looks well on course to smash a number of records over the coming year.
“If our current sales forecast stands, we should be up 40% on the last 12 months,” Forster said. “Our sales conversion timescales from initial enquiry to project completion can take up to 12 months, so to this end, we have a fairly good idea where we will end up each year. For us, it is more a question of continuing to manage costs and offering the best account management in our sector.”
But how has Embrace become such an established force in the industry? What has the company done, and continues to do, to ensure it lands the most profitable and high-profile projects, and what sort of forward planning is required to ensure long-term success?
“It’s not just about our one-stop-shop offering comprehensive project management and delivering visually impactful solutions,” Forster said. “Namely, our 360-degree approach offers creative design, advertising planning consent, print, installation, maintenance and removal services.
“From the first enquiry, our team of professionals will identify unique considerations using our comprehensive operational checklist and have the skills in place to provide the perfect solution. Each project is managed by a dedicated operational account director, who coordinates everything from the site survey stage to final sign off.”
Forster said having an eye on sustainability has also proved to be a shrewd strategy for Embrace, setting out how it works with clients to repurpose their spent wraps with a network of partners helping to find clever ways to give the substrates a second life. In 2019, the company launched its ‘Banner Karma’ initiative, whereby after a client’s display is removed, it is repurposed for use within the agricultural sector.
“We are working with the construction sector to reuse our mesh PVC wraps as permeable geotextile membrane alternatives and even supplying our end-of-life flexible substrates for upcycling into bespoke tote bags and most recently planters,” Forster said.
“We invest in projects that tackle climate change. In the last 28 months alone, we have supported the prevention of 204.57 tCO2e from being emitted through 42 verified carbon avoidance projects and funded the planting of 10,086 trees across 17 projects. Automatically each month and on every occasion we install a project for our clients, we help fund projects that collectively go some way to help reverse climate change.”
Forster also set out how Embrace continues to move away from PVC substrates, saying how the company is always looking for new products to work with.
“We were the first to test, offer to our clients and regularly utilise an eco-responsible material PVC-free Kavalan Sunlight Weldable polyester-based textile that has the same look, feel and strength of traditional PVC banners, but with none of its eco-malignance,” Forster said. “We are continuing our ongoing quest to move away from traditional PVC products wherever possible, minimising and offsetting any negative environmental impact when doing business.
“Social value is also very important to us and complements our Safecontractor SSIP, PAS91 and Constructionline Gold Level 3 Certification. We have a Constructionline Social Value Certificate, which demonstrates our commitment to jobs and economic growth; health, wellbeing, and the environment; and strength of community.”
All of this speaks volumes, with the company being an approved subcontractor to a host of leading, tier-one main constructors such as BAM, Sir Robert McAlpine, Multiplex, McLaren and Skanska. Embrace also works with demolition experts, fit-out specialists and property developers, helping it to build a customer base that includes London Estates Grosvenor, Cadogan, The Crown Estate, Selfridges & Co, Carnaby, John Lewis & Partners, Peter Jones & Partners and a number of Premier League football clubs.
While the award-winning SBQ project was undoubtedly the highlight for Embrace in 2022, there were plenty of other pieces that kept the team busy. These included a printed scaffold wrap and site hoarding for The Dorchester Hotel, as well as an urban camouflage printed scaffold wrap in London’s famous Carnaby Street.
Looking back over the years, Forster was also keen to highlight a Guinness World Record wrap in 2011, where Embrace produced the largest-ever scaffold wrap around the iconic Selfridges store in the Bullring, again in Birmingham. This was eventually taken down late last year, with the removal of 24 separate offset frames comprising of around 6,000 linear metres of scaffold tubes proving a major project in itself.
“We have a lot of repeat customers, which speaks volumes, and being organised and compliant is essential to ensure growth,” Forster said. “Gone are the days of just wrapping scaffold and site hoardings; we wrap self-adhesive vinyl and apply directly onto a variety of surfaces be it printed brickwork vinyl, a variety of ‘Trompe l’œil’ designs to mask mobile phone antennas, or one way film on glazing.
“We never rest on our laurels and every month we continue our journey of creeping excellence and grow our expertise. I am blessed to have such a tremendous, dedicated team that make everything happen.”
By Rob Fletcher