Catching up on the past 12 months in the life of Building's young 2012 team

Upping the pace

Michael Keverne of Buro Happold is a structural engineer on the main stadium

“The main thing I’ve learned in the past year is how to do an accelerated build programme. Everything is set up to maximise the pace. For example, the construction of the precast podium in the north and east of the stadium happened very quickly and the similarity of each bay meant it could whip ahead, allowing the steel works to start a few weeks earlier than planned.

The programme is designed so that if one bit of work is held up, others won’t be; they can be brought forward to pick up the slack.

I’ve realised how fast construction can happen. Design can take a long time but once you give the drawings to the contractor, it’s amazing how quickly it can build it.

We started constructing the shell and core before we had the drawings for more detailed elements, whereas projects I’ve done before always had full detailed designs before we started on site. I think it’s better for the design team to have more time really, but the tight programme means end dates can’t be changed.

My only real gripe is that we could go even faster if there were not so much checking and approving needed. You can feel a little handcuffed at times.

Even so, I’m sometimes daunted by the sheer scale and speed of the project. Most of the structural works are already complete and now the focus is on fit-out and finalising the roof – the lighting towers are going up this month and the fabric for the roof has already arrived on site.”

Lessons learned

“How public projects are done. I’ve worked on stadiums before, including the Emirates in Highbury, but this is the first time I’ve had to deal with bureaucracy on this scale.”

Linking everything up

Alex Drayton of Bovis Lend Lease is assistant construction manager on the athletes village (roads and utilities)

Alex Drayton

“I thought 2012 projects would be protected from the recession as we have to build these things come what may, but we’ve had to lose two team members, which was really sad and has added to the pressure on those of us left.

The most tense period of the past year was handing over the high-voltage ducting to Lea Valley Utilities. If we missed the deadline we’d be fined about £800,000 so we were under serious pressure. In the final few weeks I was working 12 hours a day, six days a week, but we got there in the end.

The sheer complexity of our project still amazes me. We are installing all the roads and services (from power and drainage to district heating) around and inside 14 plots, each of which has between 200 and 300 apartments on it.

Each plot has to fit with the infrastructure around it, which is being installed at the same time as the building work – whereas normally the infrastructure is already in place. Each of the plots must also interface with the Olympic Park, the Westfield shopping centre and Network Rail.

We’re working with a long list of other organisations too, including Thames Water and Transport for London.

We’re nearing the end of phase one, which is installing all the roads and utilities. Then there’s a nine-month break before starting phase two in November, which is when we’ll test the infrastructure.”

Lessons learned

“Plan, plan, plan. You have to understand what you’ve got to build and who you need to talk to before you start . You can’t do things on the hoof. You have to go on site and know how it will all come together.”

Procuring packages

Elizabeth Collins-Hooper is a QS for Balfour Beatty on the aquatics centre

Elizabeth Collins-Hooper

“It was pretty daunting when I had to start chairing meetings between the designers and subcontractors where we review the subcontractors’ pricing and methodology. I’m finishing my masters this year and won’t start studying for my APC until next year, so I’m not au fait with all the jargon yet and I’m still on a really steep learning curve.

So far everyone’s been alright, though, and it’s good to meet the people who’ll actually carry out the works.

We’re also now doing most tenders electronically and I’ve also been tasked with setting up the templates and generally becoming the e-tendering guru. It really speeds things up but some of our tenderers do need help finding their way through the process as it’s quite a new way of doing things.

We’re about to step procurement up a gear and we’ll be looking at packages for ceilings and finishes now that the structural bits are done, and I’ll be managing certain packages right through to the end.

With the roof up, the shape of the building is really quite something. The day it was jacked into position wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be, though, because it happened so slowly and the whole process is completely computerised.

It’s really coming together. Our latest job is testing the concrete in the dive pool by leaving water in it for two weeks.”

Lessons learned

“At the beginning, some of the meetings seemed like they were being conducted in French. The sheer volume of information involved in delivering a project like this was overwhelming – legislative, contractual, commercial, construction methods, health and safety, subcontract specifications and drawings combined with the project-specific requirements … The list goes on. I’m far from knowing it all, but because I’m now familiar with how the project operates and I know where to go when I don’t know something, my confidence has grown.”

Protecting the design

Stuart Fraser of Make is lead architect on the handball arena

Stuart Fraser

“I’ll probably never design a roof as big as this again – it has a 65m span. Neither am I likely to do anything as high profile as this again – three billion people are going to see this design. All this makes it worthwhile going through the pain of working late nights and weekends.

Our role became “design guardian” after the design and build contract was awarded to Buckingham Group last year. This means we’re working with Buckingham and acting for the client reviewing drawings, visiting sites and making sure samples are sorted early.

Right now we’re looking at key junctions in the copper cladding. We’re setting samples that everyone agrees with, which then form a benchmark. It’s about making the design buildable. It could be that a cladding detail is not exactly how you originally wanted it but the people fabricating and installing it are thinking about how to get a screwdriver in to fix it, and if something goes wrong in 10 years’ time, how you’ll get it off without upsetting the entire facade.

The highlight so far was seeing the building come out of the ground, that’s when I knew this was for real. I can’t wait to see more architectural elements, as at the moment it’s all substructure.”

Lessons learned

“How to work with lots of different people, following protocols, including getting sign-off from multiple stakeholders. It involves tonnes of communication.”

Calculating the costs

Lisa Morgan is an assistant QS for Carillion on the media centre

Lisa Morgan

“The snow caused us all sorts of problems because we couldn’t pour concrete in the low temperatures. We probably lost a week before Christmas and a week after. But we’re still on track and we’ve brought in extra resource to make up for the delay, and I’ve learned about coping with weather problems through this.

It’s been a tough year. When I first started working on site I felt I was doing everything wrong. All the processes you have to go through on a project like this can be a nightmare. I have to sign off every bit of cost information and every change with my line manager, commercial director, the director above him and the delivery partner, CLM.

At first CLM were always coming back to me and saying they wanted extra bits of information. But I’ve learned to see things from the client’s perspective and I know exactly what they want, so it’s running a lot more smoothly now.
Also CLM are just down the corridor from me so I can easily pop in and discuss things with them, which means we have a good relationship.

I’ve spent the past 18 months working on the main press centre with contractors putting together monthly valuations, but it’s such a big package and it’s so technical, that my line manager has had to oversee everything I did.

He now wants me to stand on my own two feet so I’m transferring to the international broadcast centre, which will be less technical and where I’ll be responsible for my own packages.

However, my first tasks will be on both buildings, for which I’ll be putting together the packages for raised access flooring and carpentry and joinery and then analysing the bids when they come in. I’ll be sending the flooring package for CLM to approve soon and quietly confident they’ll be happy with it.”

Lessons learned

“It’s been brilliant being on site because you can see how things are done and in what sequence, which helps with pricing. Now if a subcontractor gives me a price I’ll know when there’s no way on earth the job will take that long because I’ve seen it on site.”

Greening the project

Amanda Bailey* leads the sustainability team for Arup’s infrastructure work in the south area of the Olympic Park

Amanda Bailey

The best thing about the past year has been the opportunity to use the Olympics to influence sustainability across the wider industry, but there are frustrations. For instance, some of the things my team has suggested to the 10 or so Arup design teams we advise have fallen by the wayside owing to cost or security considerations, which had to take priority.

Also, we can’t experiment with techniques that are untried – you can’t have the concourse collapsing because you used a really innovative material that hadn’t been properly tested.

Overall, though, the client is passionate about making this project as sustainable as possible. It’s not just paying lip service in order to get planning permission. Also, 2012 attracts the best people, so everyone working on it is at the top of their game. As a result we’re doing some exciting things. Take the kerbs. Some have been reclaimed from on-site demolition and are being re-used. We’re also trialling plastic kerbs. On the face of it they are more expensive, but once you factor in how light they are and therefore how easy to transport and how quick to lay, plus the added health and safety benefits, they clearly are the better solution.

Lessons learned

“Spotting how to control and influence outcomes when you’re working with lots of different teams. This means identifying who in the chain needs to be convinced and getting them the right information fast.”

*Amanda has replaced Neil Hitchin from Arup in Building’s 2012 team, as Neil has taken a role with the firm in Sydney.

Landscaping the park

Elsie Twumasi-Mensah is a civil engineer for Atkins on the Olympic Park and infrastructure

Elsie Twumasi-Mensah

“People think landscaping is about plants and grass but the past year has shown me that a lot more is involved. I’m working with landscape architects and civil engineers.

In September I switched sides. I had been co-ordinating designs in the north of the park, which meant ensuring that separate designs – say for a manhole and a flowerbed – did not clash. But now I’ve joined the landscape team and I’m one of the designers.

I’m designing pavement options, assessing risks, supervising CAD technicians and producing drawings and specifications. Moving to design team has allowed me to appreciate their problems. But they also have huge opportunities because the scale of this project and the client’s commitment to sustainability means we can do some innovative things. For instance, we are using logs and huge amounts of recycled concrete aggregates which came from the site clearance.

The typical kind of problem I’ve been looking at is the location of a pumping station. We need one near the north park cut-off wall which is in an area containing perched water but its location was a problem owing to space constraints, and the size and appearance of the pump – basically it’s a monster.

We’ve found a temporary space for it but I’ve done a study suggesting permanent locations and now we have to find one that pleases the stakeholders, including the Highways Agency and Transport for London.

Lessons learned

“I now have a much better appreciation of the importance of effective communication when co-ordinating designs, particularly on a project of this scale and complexity.”