The Olympic Park is a showpiece of today’s construction industry, with five major projects under way and a host of smaller contracts.
But it’s also made up of 4,434 workers, 11 canteens, 5km of temporary roads, 14 bus stops and its own mail service. In this insider’s guide we talk to three of the locals working on the Aquatics Centre, Olympic Stadium and Velodrome, and bring you a behind-the-scenes look at life on the site.
I’m at the end of my career, and I’ve just managed to squeeze this job in before the end. It’s fantastic. My first job was a swimming pool, and my last job will be as well. I had previously worked with Balfour Beatty and I rejoined last year because I knew they were involved in the Olympics. We’re constructing nine bridges of various shapes and sizes and I have a watching brief over them, but my main role is as project director for the Aquatics Centre.
From a technical perspective, the Aquatics Centre is probably the most challenging project in the park. We’ve been working well below the water table, we’ve had contamination issues, and we’re dealing with an extremely complex steel roof structure with a span that is bigger than T5. We said a year ago that we’d start putting the concrete at the bottom of the diving pool on 17 August, and we actually started that yesterday [17 August]. So we’re bang on where we should be, which is a pretty good achievement given what I’ve described.
There’s tremendous pride at being part of 2012, whether you’re building a big, sexy venue or whether you’re building drains and roads. This venue will probably employ 400-500 people at the peak, about 10% of the number working on the park. So the whole enterprise has to come together to make 2012, that’s the exciting thing.
My job is not just to deliver a project that does what it’s supposed to do – what we can’t do is look back in three years and say we could have done more for health and safety, or to give people job opportunities. And it has to perform well from an environmental standpoint. So a lot of my time is spent dealing with these issues, as well as production design and procurement.
All of us delivering projects meet regularly, we have forums to discuss health and safety, industrial relations and sustainability. We’re all aiming to deliver things in the best possible way, and there’s a bit of friendly rivalry there as well! And you’re never too old to learn from others. The senior people in the project teams are benefiting from the interface with other projects, which you don’t normally get on a project, no matter how big. But this is a programme with a host of different contractors, and they’re all learning form each other.
Aquatics centre is probably the most challenging project in the park
We’ve had a lot of interest from the athletes that are going to compete here, as well as media and stakeholder interest. Earlier today we had the new head of the Paralympics here on a visit, and Ellie Simmons, the swimmer who did so well in the Paralympic Games. When athletes come here and see where they’re going to compete, they think what we do is great. They can’t understand how we can deliver all this, and I can’t understand how Tom Daley can stand on the 10 metre board! He thinks what I’m doing is difficult and complex, and I think what he’s doing is rather special.
The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, which will run the Games, is now stepping up its requirements. During the Games, the Aquatics Centre has to function differently from what it will do during the legacy phase.
It will have to accommodate 17,500 people compared with 2,500, then you’ve got issues around communications and signage. And some of the spaces will change – for example, everyone involved in the Games will have to be tested for drugs at some point, but you won’t need that facility during the legacy phase. We’ll also need far more facilities for catering, toilets and media and communications.
Our contract requires us to convert the building into legacy use, so Balfour Beatty will be back in September 2012 to take down the two stands and put in the glass walls that have been omitted for the moment.
London 2012 hasn’t always and still doesn’t necessarily get tremendous press. But now that the projects are moving forward, there’s more comfort around the outcome and budget, so more emphasis is being placed on legacy and the park beyond 2012. I hope to be around for the conversion as ultimately the Aquatics Centre is a legacy building and not just built for six or seven weeks of the Games.
But I won’t be taking a holiday before that job. When the games are on, I’ll be scrambling for tickets like everyone else.
Photographs by Oliver Knight