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Kitting out the Games

The critical moments of one of Atkins' highest profile projects – the London 2012 Games – are to be broadcast to the world.

The vast construction works at the Olympic Park are just the start when it comes to the scale of operations needed to shape London 2012. More than 100 temporary structures are also needed along with their power and water supplies, seating and communications systems. This is where Atkins comes in.

The company is supplying engineering design services for all London 2012 temporary venues and infrastructure for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), which oversees the planning, development and staging of the Games. And the pressure is on to deliver some truly complex, exciting engineering. "All power and utilities must work when the starting pistol goes," says Atkins project manager Steve Cardwell.

"It is all about the athletes and the show. If the power goes out on the finishing line, if the scoring or timing doesn’t get recorded. . ." He tails off because that is something that does not bear thinking about. Not only is the project high profile, it is also on a massive scale. Atkins will be designing and coordinating around 100 structures – the remit includes competition and training venues around the country as well as structures relating to logistics, transport and back-of-house facilities.

Some of the venues like Wembley and Wimbledon already exist but may need extra facilities for media, catering or security. Other venues like the 15,000-seat beach volleyball stadium on Horse Guards Parade will be constructed from scratch.

London 2012’s pledge to embrace sustainability has also meant the number of temporary venues has increased. "The scale of the work has never been done before," says LOCOG head of venue development Paul May. "For the London Games there’s a great emphasis on legacy in that everything that is left behind has a use, which has led to a greater proportion of temporary structures. We’re keen to use existing facilities where we can – like convention centres and existing sporting facilities, but we still need an awful lot of temporary works."

Atkins project director Mike McNicholas likens the scale and grandeur of the project to Crystal Palace – the temporary cast iron and glass building originally erected in Hyde Park to house the Great Exhibition of 1851 which later moved to south London "When looking at the approach to the project we thought of Crystal Palace," says McNicholas. "It was a permanent-looking temporary structure which is our vision for the temporary Games venues."

One of the challenges of the project is taking standard components available for temporary stadiums and creating venues which have the same feeling of permanency as the main Games venues. "We’re looking for bespokelooking solutions using modular components," says McNicholas. "It’s about how to make five portacabins look like a five-star hotel. We’ve done projects with the Army, which is very good at redeploying rapidly, like for Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. The Army is excellent at taking standard pieces of kit and joining them with bespoke items."

The temporary venues will be in some prominent places. Apart from the beach volleyball on Horse Guards Parade, the triathalon will be in Hyde Park, and the equestrian events in Greenwich. The team will need to make sure that its temporary structures leave no trace in these prestigious locations after the Games. However, the locations will also lend some of their glamour to the temporary venues. "How the venues will look is a challenge we’re working through," says LOCOG head of venue development Paul May. "They’re in fantastic locations which we will hope to make the most of. The locations will be superb backdrops for TV."

Modular components in the temporary structures will be able to be reused after the Games, helping meet sustainability ambitions. "For most venues, we’ve hired parts from the events market – the components already exist," says May. "We’re trying to make best use of existing stock." "We’re looking at designing for reuse," adds McNicholas. "We’d like to say we can do something with the structures afterwards. With a temporary venue the embedded carbon values become more important."

"There are several different disciplines involved, in the design services brief," explains Cardwell. "Building services which involves supplying power, whether its mains power or temporary generation, security, civil engineering works like temporary bridges and roads, fire engineering, acoustics – looking at ingress and escape of noise – assessment of existing venues especially with regard to accessibility and we’re looking at things like airflow which is especially important for sports like badminton." Most of the temporary venues will be up and running for around a year.

Atkins has taken time to interrogate design standards to decide what is needed for temporary structures like these. The temporary nature requires a different mindset to traditional construction projects. "We don’t want to design a temporary bridge for a 120-year design life," says Cardwell. "You have to decide which standards are appropriate. There’s a balance between durability and cost. However, stakeholders and approving authorities need to be taken through the process with you. All the structures need building regulations approval, even though they’re temporary."

Atkins has to make sure that there is homogeneity throughout the design, something that is complicated when different design codes may be used by different parties. "When suppliers have their own approach to codes, we need to make sure there is an interface with our structures and philosophy," says McNicholas. "Plant suppliers might not be interested in deviating from standards as it might complicate the warranties they give."

As well as aiming to be the most sustainable Games yet, London 2012 will also be helping to make it possible for the Games to be hosted by developing countries in Africa and elsewhere. The cost of building grand stadiums for the event has been too much for developing countries to bear. But the development of low cost, reusable, temporary structures would open up the opportunity for these countries to become host nations. "Work on temporary structures should lead to the possibility of a more affordable, low cost games," says McNicholas. "In the future [the Games] could be hosted in countries in Africa. It could allow greater participation."

Atkins is busy working on the designs and will continue to be right until the Games start in 2012. Planning applications will be submitted by the end of the year and the tendering process for a contractor will begin at about the same time.

LOCOG has a £2bn budget for staging the Games, with almost all of it to be raised from the private sector.

This commercial revenue will come from several sources, with the LOCOG receiving income from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as well as generating its own income from sales of tickets, merchandise and, most importantly, a domestic sponsorship programme.

Revenues from the IOC include:

  • A share of the broadcasting revenues that will be generated from the sale of TV rights to the Games to broadcasters around the world.

  • A share from The Olympic Partners (TOP) programme, which is made up of the companies which have bought worldwide marketing rights from the IOC.

There are currently 12 international partners which have worldwide marketing rights of association with the Olympic Movement. TOP partners have exclusive rights within their categories for Winter and Summer Olympic Games, and sign agreements for a four year period.

The TOP sponsors signed up for 2012 are Coca-Cola, Acer, Atos Origin, GE, McDonald’s, Omega, Panasonic, Samsung and Visa. Then there are three levels of domestic sponsorship – official partners, official supporters and official suppliers/providers which have exclusive rights within their business categories.

Official London 2012 partners so far are: adidas, BA, BP, BT, EDF, Lloyds TSB and Nortel.

Official London 2012 supporters/ providers so far are Adecco, Cadbury and Deloitte.

Official London 2012 suppliers/ providers so far are Atkins and Boston Consulting Group.

Parliament has legislated to help provide legal safeguards for all London 2012 sponsors. This will protect their rights.

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