The London 2012 Olympics are upon us, and an estimated 500,000 specators are expected to visit the Olympic Park to watch 10,000 athletes from 204 nations go for gold.
As usual, the architects behind many of the Olympic venues are basking in glory or at least garnering massive amounts of attention, and while the refined designs of the Olympic Stadium itself,the undulating form of the Aquatics Centre and the recyclable basketball venue may not offer the ‘wow factor’ of similar buildings in Beijing, they are certainly worth a look.
In the background, but certainly no less worthy of notice, is the engineering behind the games.
“To produce such a detailed and visual map of the Olympic Park – Europe’s largest construction site – is a significant achievement in itself,” says Simon Wright, director of infrastructure, utilities and public realm at the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA). “It is also a testament to the engineering feats of those who have breathed life into the spectacular venues and infrastructure on the 500-acre site. But perhaps more importantly, it is set to become a vital tool which can be used to educate and inform the next generation of civil engineers by inspiring them to study courses in science, technology, engineering and maths.”
The engineering teams working for the ODA have played a critical role in delivering Olympic sites, from preparing the land for construction to demolishing redundant structures and cleaning the contaminated soil to improving the Park’s many waterways, burying the overhead power lines and ensuring that any wildlife and plant species are protected.
The design and construction of stadiums, roads, bridges, waterways and electricity systems would also have been impossible without engineers collaboratively working with their more glamorous architect counterparts as part of multidisciplinary teams.
The 80,000 capacity Olympic Stadium has the flexibility to downsize after the Games – London doesn’t really need a permanent venue of this size – thanks to the specially designed lightweight upper tier, which will enable a large proportion of the seating to be removed. Only 10,000 tonnes of steel were used to build the venue, making it one of the lightest and most sustainable Olympic Stadiums ever engineered and built.
The basketball arena will do more than downside in East London following the Games; it will disappear completely, making it the largest-ever temporary venue to be built for any Olympic or Paralympic Games.
The arena is made up of 20 separate 10-storey steel arches and the 115-metre long, 1,000 tonne steel frame is wrapped in 20,000 square metres of white waterproof fabric. The various elements can be easily dismantled and put to use individually after the Games or used as a whole elsewhere.
The Aquatics Centre was the first venue completed in the park and features a spectacular 3,000 tonne wave-like roof that is 160 metres long and up to 80 metres wide.
Thanks to its unique design, the roof sits on three concrete supports – two northern supports and a southern wall. Sustainability was a top concern for the engineers and 100 per cent of the roof covering is made of recycled aluminium.
After the games, the Aquatics Centre will be transformed into a facility for the local community as well as elite swimmers. Two temporary wings will be removed, leaving 2,500 seats, with the possibility of increasing the capacity to 3,500 for major competitions
Finally, there is the Velodrome, which sits on top of a 100-year-old landfill site. This facility challenged the engineers, forcing them to specially design the foundations of the building to provide stability. This was achieved by driving more than 900 piles up to 26 metres into the ground, much deeper than usual for a structure of this size.
Hugh Robertson, Minister for Sport and the Olympics has been quick to recognise the role that engineers have played, saying, “civil engineers were pivotal in successfully delivering the iconic structures on the Olympic Park so I am pleased that the Games have helped to raise the wider profile and appreciation of the profession.”
Olympic Park: Fast Facts
■2.5 square kilometres in size – one of the largest urban parks to be built in Europe for 150 years.
■220 buildings demolished.
■four Iron Age skeletons discovered.
■2.3 million cubic metres of soil excavated.
■250 acres of new parklands.
■8.35 km of waterways in and around the Park.
■10 rail lines.
■five permanent venues.
■30 new bridges.
■80,000 seats in the Olympic Stadium.
■11 residential blocks and 2 818 new homes in the Olympic Village.
■30,000 people will have worked on the project by 2012.