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Bridges continue to foster engineering ingenuity

Bridges. Those most iconic of engineering structures. This week we have got three for your delectation - all in various stages of their lifecycles, and all with fascinating stories to tell.

First we have the Garden Bridge, that most controversial of structures, planned to span the River Thames between Temple on the North bank and a location between and Waterloo and Blackfriars on the South. This week we’ll try and get behind the hysteria and outline the engineering - and other - challenges that must be confronted and addressed in creating a tree-lined, iconic structure in the fast-flowing and heavily trafficked waters of the capital’s fluid artery. It’s more challenging than you might think.

Then we have the completed Walton Bridge - the current holder of the British Construction Industry Award for Best Practice.

Walton Bridge

Further upstream than the Garden Bridge, but still spanning the challenging Thames and no less iconic, the team behind Walton ticked all the boxes when it comes to delivering a complex engineering project in the heart of a community.

The project also pushed new boundaries in technical excellence, with it being the first UK road bridge designed and fabricated to Eurocodes using the advanced provisions for economy of design.

Building information modelling ensured buildability and precisely controlled the fabrication of complex structural steelwork. Early specialist subcontractor involvement was key, with regular whole supply chain workshops and quality reviews held to identify and collaboratively resolve technical challenges.

It all meant that when the budget was reduced by 20%, the cost savings were effectively absorbed. It’s a fantastic project and it’s fantastic that we have now been able to dig really deep and find out from the project team just how they made it happen.

And finally we have the Hammersmith Flyover, which threatened to become the iconic structure of the London 2012 Olympics when it was discovered to be on the verge of collapse just months before the Games were due to commence.

Some rapid, emergency post tensioning kept the structure alive and - critically - operational, and now engineers are back and nearing the end of a more thorough and planned effort to extend its life. Again, it is fantastic that the project team has this week shared with us the detail behind what they have been doing.

All three are unquestionably fascinating structures, with equally fascinating stories behind them. Whether or not you like them, and whether or not you see the money put into them as well spent, is up to you to discuss and debate. But hopefully what shines through loud and clear is the engineering ingenuity that is involved in their design, delivery and upkeep; an ingenuity that offers learning lessons and inspiration to us all.

  • Mark Hansford is NCE’s editor

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