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Rescue mission

NCE was sick as a parrot to discover that Wembley's twin towers were about to be substituted. With the Cup Final looming, Richard Thompson called Britain's top structural engineers to see if they could do a 'magic sponge' on Sir Owen Williams' most famous

Don't say it too loudly, but they really do think it's all over for England's two most famous sporting landmarks.

It appears there is no room for Wembley's famous twin towers in the £316M redesign of England's National Stadium. After surviving a world war, a world cup and a ransacking by Scotland fans in 1977, the towers face demolition to make way for a bigger national stadium.

With the FA Cup Final looming, a wave of nostalgia has swept over the NCE team. We decided to see if something could be done to rescue the towers from the wrecking ball and sent an SOS to Britain's top structural engineers. 'How can we save them?' we asked.

And the boys done good. Faced with a tight deadline, teams from Buro Happold, WS Atkins, Sir Owen Williams & Partners and Robert Benaim came up with their own unique solutions for relocating the towers (see boxes).

Although final designs for the official scheme will not be ready until the summer, it is clear that the 75 year old towers, designed by Sir Owen Williams, will have to be moved if they are to survive. The current structure backs on to a road and a railway cutting. To accommodate the new, larger, arena the pitch will have to move north by nearly 40m. This would place the towers inside the new arena.

Underpinning specialist Abbey Pynford has already proposed one solution. It involves sliding the towers north, up the Olympic Way and away from the new stadium, using methods similar to those the firm employed at Beachy Head to move Belle Tout lighthouse (NCE 18 March). In their new position the towers could form a gateway to the new National Stadium. Last week Pynford managing director Paul Kiss met Wembley National Stadium's redevelopment team to discuss the feasibility and cost of relocating the towers.

Moving them away from the new stadium may also be the best aesthetic option if they are to be saved. The new structure will be much taller than the existing one, so even if the towers were retained they would lose their impact by becoming little more than glorified wall mountings.

Relocation would be a major technical challenge. The towers are not free standing - they are built into the grandstand structure and therefore have no back. They are also relatively fragile, despite their chunky appearance.

'To move the towers will present a considerable challenge because of their lightweight structure of 75mm reinforced concrete,' says Owen Williams chief executive Richard Williams.

'My grandfather was able to achieve the lightweight structure using his experience of work and the extensive research he undertook on reinforced concrete ships in the First World War.'

The towers do not touch the ground either, sitting instead on the second floor of a reinforced concrete frame. Moving them would be difficult and costly - Wembley officials claim to have been quoted £20M, although Kiss says this figure is grossly over estimated.

Wembley National Stadium officials are doubtful about the value of retaining the towers. They have a relatively modest budget of £200M to build a new world-class stadium capable of staging football world cups and Olympic Games. Money spent on moving the towers would mean less to spend on the new structure.

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