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Jeremy Buck, principal engineer, Scott Wilson

Airports: Terminal 4: a personal account

In 1979, I joined the Basingstoke head office of Scott Wilson as a senior chartered engineer, after five years working on sites in the UK and overseas, and became part of the team engaged in the preliminary design development of the Terminal 4 building and associated external works.

Scott Wilson had been appointed by British Airports Authority in 1977 to assist in the advance planning of the road access and this was extended the following year to include civil and structural engineering services for the building, the roads and bridges leading to the terminal, and the aprons extending 30m out from the facade of the building.

The first two years of this extended commission were taken up with investigations and studies as the scheme was developed and I recollect that attempts were made to incorporate for a British Rail station. It was not to be. Even the London Underground connection to the Piccadilly Line was by no means certain until late in the planning and preliminary design stage. It was much later that a rail connection to the national network became a reality, with an Underground station on a totally different alignment and connected to a different part of the network to that envisaged in 1979.

It was not until 1980, and following the appointment of Taylor Woodrow as management contractor, that the planning of the building was settled and a design and construction period of less than five years was fixed. In the three years from 1980 to 1983 we prepared and issued in accordance with the project programme, construction details for packages of structural and civil works valued at more than £50M (1985 prices). We also made a substantial contribution to the engineering of the £14M aluminium rainscreen to the building.

The scale of the effort can be gauged from the fact that the project ultimately required more than 100 years of technical time from Scott Wilson and, at its peak, employed 50 engineers and technicians. Several engineers worked for more than three years continuously and exclusively on Terminal 4.

At that time, Scott Wilson had three offices in the UK. Most of the work was done in the Basingstoke office, but there was also a significant contribution from Glasgow. I remember that, despite the pressure to meet a relentless series of deadlines, there was great enthusiasm within the firm for a project which was seen to be of national importance and to which we were making a major contribution. It is sometimes forgotten that well over half of the elements in a typical modern building are designed by civil, structural and building services engineers.

My principal contribution to the project was the design of 5,000t of structural steelwork for the departures forecourt and arrivals concourse. This was a great opportunity for a young engineer and such was the scale of the works that while preparing fabrication drawings, I moved into the Bolton office of Robert Watson, the steelwork fabricator, so I could review the drawings as soon as they appeared. Although many of Scott Wilson's drawings were prepared by our own Gypsys CAD system, this was long before the days of routine electronic transfer of drawing files between designer and contractor.

There were a further 8,000t of steel in the project and in 1985 BAA and the Design Team were awarded the European Design Award by the European Convention for Constructional Steelwork.

Team working characterised the project and Scott Wilson, along with other members of the design team, were represented at a senior level in the Terminal 4 project office which was established close to the site.

BAA subsequently took this a stage further with its partnering approach to design and construction and the establishment of design and construction teams working together under one roof.

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