by Alison Ahearn
Reader, they succeeded. The students built their structures and all were seen in final form. Not that there were not some difficulties along the way for some.
The Don Valley Stadium made it look relatively easy in the end, as did the Kingsgate team. The Kingsgaters had staged their anti-nuclear protest the day before and been doused with a bucket of water for their troubles, but seemed to enjoy it. They had been wary of reprisals but their structure escaped unscathed. They made a grand banner to proclaim their achievement and decorated their bridge (next year we must assign fewer students or increase the difficulty level… but it was good management that got them there so fast). The Don Valley team had a most excellent structure for taking photos of a team…the risers for seats made a perfect raked photo stage. The project involves foundation work, concrete walling, steel superstructure and craning piece A to fit slot B (harder to do at big scale than it sounds). A very efficient team.
The Naples team and Gherkin teams finished almost in tandem, and pulled rabbits out of hats to achieve it. A little help from technician friends gave a boost along the way: concrete drilling is a bit more of a challenge when the tools are running out of battery charge. But the structures completed and looked correct to your correspondent’s eyes.
The Nuclear Island team had a real challenge. Having been given seriously fancy fibreglass formwork for their dome, which had concrete poured amidst the chaos of VIP day, the concrete cured and did not want to let go of the formwork. Expensive formwork. Not cheap plywood. Commissioned-from-specialists formwork. Oh dear. All the pressure hoses and drilling and air-gap-creating would not persuade the concrete to loosen its grip on the fibreglass form. So the dome was craned into position with its formwork inside. Perhaps this is not quite how a nuclear client would envisage things, but we all learned a great deal about fibreglass formwork from a civil engineering point of view.
And the students all had their finished structure that looked like it was meant to look. They all had much to be proud of in a hectic week with multiple pilot schemes operating, including one that collected data for an American-Italian-British research team on construction management. Students had all sorts of calls on their time and attention, including a bunch of VIPs who really were very important to the future of constructionarium as a teaching model. Yet the student teams each finished and did very well.
A round of final meetings with the client produced a list of profit and loss. Student project leaders then took everyone to visit their structure and tell their tales. The rain came down, went away, came down, went away.
The coaches arrived, the students grabbed their snacks, we packed them in, counted them up, waved goodbye and raced back to Imperial to welcome them back to London. Staff collected the survey kits from the coaches and ferried it back to the Skempton building to store it for the night, and then the big escape home by midnight.
Was every student happy? The event is too challenging for everyone to be in their comfort zone but most seem very pleased with themselves. Was the construction perfect? impossible when the vast majority are novices, we are racing the clock and don’t have the money resource of normal construction (albeit we are very spoiled by our sponsors, as it is). Was it worth it? Most definitely. Huge shifts in understanding of what it is to be an engineering on site, interpreting someone else’s design into a 3-D reality against the 4th dimension of time. And, as usual, the students did Imperial proud.