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Kittting out the Games

The critical moments of one of Atkins's highest profile projects - the 2012 Olympic Games - to date are to be broadcast to the world.

Here Atkins project managers Steve Cardwell and Mike McNicholas contemplate the complex challenges ahead.

The vast construction works taking place on the permanent venues in the Olympic Park are just the start when it comes to the scale of operations needed to stage London 2012.

More than 100 temporary structures are also needed along with the power and water supplies, seating and communications systems.

This is where Atkins comes in. The company is supplying design services for all London 2012 temporary venues and infrastructure for 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 doesn’t 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 seater 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 lead 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, 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 stadium and creating a venue which has the same feeling of permanency as the main Olympic venues.

"We’re looking for bespoke looking solutions using modular components," says McNicholas. "It’s about how to make five portacabins look like a 5 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 good at taking standard pieces of kit and joining them with bespoke items."

The temporary venues will be in some prominent places - the triathalon in Hyde Park, the equestrian events in Greenwich, the beach volleyball in Horse Guards Parade. The team will need to make sure that their temporary structures will leave no trace in these prestigious locations. 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 location 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 game, helping meet sustainability ambitions. They will be rented from companies for the duration of the Olympics.
"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."

Atkins is supplying design services on the temporary facilities including building design, civil and structural engineering, acoustics, fire and accessibility.

"There are several different disciplines involved," 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 both ingress and escape of noise, assessment of existing venues especially with regards to accessibility and we're looking at things like airflow which is especially important for sports like badminton."

The majority of the temporary venues are 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 needs 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 ever, London 2012 will also be helping to make it possible for the Olympics to be hosted by developing countries in Africa and elsewhere. Previously the cost of building grand stadiums for the event has been too much for developing countries to bear, but development of low cost temporary structures which can be reused would open up the opportunity of being a host nation to more countries.

"Work on temporary structures should lead to the possibility of a more affordable, low cost games," says McNicholas. "In future 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 starter’s gun goes in 2012.

Planning submissions will be put in by the end of the year and the tendering process for a contractor will begin.

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