Olympian effort flows through

The site for the London Olympics 2012 includes a brand new deep water pumping station - and the UK's biggest municipal water recycling project ever. But, as Claire Smith reports, the capital's impressive engineering history is not being forgotten

They call them Pinky and Perky – the two giant carbon extractor pipes of the new east London pumping station – manufactured in glass reinforced plastic and finished in pink to match one of the official London 2012 brand colours.

Unveiled early in 2010, the deep water pumping station – which connects the newly created water and sewage extension to the existing Victorian network – embodies many of the principles of the Olympic vision.

Rather than being designed to fade into the landscape the new pumping station is intended to become a talking point – which after the games have gone will become a landmark – and a symbol of the regeneration of one of the most deprived areas of London.

Ruari Mayback, Olympic Development Authority (ODA) project sponsor for utilities, said of the Olympic Park: “It is the project that has put the imagination and excitement back into engineering – and the utilities are the backbone of everything we do.”

One of the challenges in designing for the £9.3B Olympic redevelopment is that everything must be fully up and running to cope with the huge influx of athletes, spectators and press expected to descend on London for the 2012 games. The budget comes 63% from government funding, 23% from the lottery and 13% from the Mayor of London and the London Development Agency.

During the games in July and August 2012, the Olympic Village will be home to 17,000 athletes and officials. Around 20,000 journalists, photographers and television crew from around the world will be based in the new media centre. And hundreds of thousands of spectators are expected to attend the games – 100% of whom will be arriving by public transport, cycle or by foot.

These are designed to be the greenest Olympics ever – but the plan also is to create a legacy – effectively a new area of London, with 2,800 new homes, a huge shopping centre and world class sports facilities.

Mayback says: “If you were just staging the games you would have temporary facilities. The idea for us is to look at the situation and leave a legacy for future development.”

After the games and the Paralympic Games are over, the site will revert to a building site once more as the five main stadiums are scaled down and the accommodation in the Olympic Village is converted into flats and new homes.

The number of seats in the main Olympic Stadium can be reduced from 80,000 to 55,000 – enough to become the grounds for one of the smaller London football teams. The baseball court is a temporary building which can be moved. The number of seats in the Velodrome and the Aquatic Centre can also be reduced after to allow them to become useful public assets.

When designing the infrastructure for the site engineers had to take into account the fact that water flow and energy consumption would peak during the games and then fall significantly – before gradually building up again as this new district of east London begins to develop.

Ron Smith, field operation specialist from Thames Water, said: “If you are building for a town you know how many people are going to be there for a number of years. Here it is going to be very busy for a very short period of time. The future is unpredictable and you have to build that into the plant – so some of the pipes can be converted to dry weather channels when things become less busy.”

Engineers working on the site decided to divide the development into stages – two years planning, four years building and one year of testing. Work began on the new sewage system in June 2008. Across the 2km site two km of new 1.2m-diametre pipe has been laid, as well as a network of secondary pipes. The Olympic Park is the first to be built with a permanent connection to the sewer network.

Smith is one of Thames tunnelling experts and supervised the creation of the new network – created by remotely operated tunnelling machines named after famous female Olympic athletes.

The main sewer runs from the velodrome at the head of the park to a new pumping station which propels the wastewater and effluent up from the low lying site upwards so that it can flow into the gravity led Victorian system.

The new sewer network had to negotiate four rivers, two watercourses and two operational railway lines. The first part of the work was decontaminating the site, which had been used for various industrial purposes. Developing the site which contains areas of marsh and wetland also involved building 30 new bridges.

Planners also had to negotiate with four different local authorities – Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest and Hackney – as well as making sure the developments complied with national planning regulations. In its bid to be the greenest ever games the ODA pledged to reduce the amount of materials carried to the site by road.

The ODA is beating its target to transport 50% of building materials by water and rail. One of the key components of this is low carbon concrete mixing plant on site.

Maybeck said: “A lot of the challenge has been getting contractors to think differently.”

Now the water and electricity networks are 90% in place the next big step will be to build a water recycling plant . The ODA has set a target to reduce consumption of potable water by 40% and will shortly be announcing a major water recycling scheme that will use harvested rainwater collected from the aerodynamic roofs of the Olympic park.

Mayback says: “We are going to create a plant to treat wastewater and top up rainwater harvesting. It will be the biggest municipal recycling project in Britain.”

Wastewater and harvested rainwater will be used to supply the electricity substation – which has been awarded a Royal Institute of British Architects award for excellence. The substation heats and cools water that will be used to provide cheap and efficient heating and air conditioning – both for the athletes and for the communities who will move onto the site after the games have gone.

Already operational – and the second building on site to be completed – is the deep water pumping system, which uses ITT Flygt pumps. This is a key part of the infrastructure which lifts outflow from the low lying site to connect with the Victorian sewer system.

Its purpose is to pump wastewater and sewage up to the embankment containing the Northern Outflow – the giant sewer designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette 150 years ago. The design, by John Lyall Architects, which was built by Barhale construction is an innovative circular design – which reflects the shape of the split dry and wet water wells below the ground.

In the open circular courtyard stands a 360° Jib Crane on a swivel – which can be used to pull out faulty pumping equipment. A circular door is big enough to allow a lorry to pass through into the courtyard. Under the ground the split well is 16m deep and 12.5m in diameter – with a wet well on one side and a dry well, containing the pumping equipment on the other.

The fully computerised station will be able to handle 880l/s. The control room will be moderated from the headquarters of Thames Water in Reading. An Olympic-blue light that glows at night on top of the ventilation tower will help to ensure that the new pumping station is not just an unremarkable part of the landscape, but a local landmark. The walls of the new pumping station are etched with drawings taken from the original designs of the Abbey Mills Pumping Station in east London.

Mayback says: “The buildings all take their inspiration from great Victorian buildings – such as Battersea Power Station and Tate Modern.”

Smith says the new infrastructure was designed to last: “The Victorians did build fantastic sewers and many great buildings. This is a modern version of that. There is no reason why this pumping station shouldn’t be working in 150 years’ time. These things have been built with history in mind – where the site is coming from and where it is going to.”

Currently the big push is the greening of the Olympic site. The Queen planted the first of 4,000 new trees and landscaping and planting is already happening around many of the main buildings. The deepwater pumping station, despite its hi-tech spec has been built to incorporate bird boxes and bat boxes and a biodiverse roof, supplied by Bauder, coated with crushed aggregate – which has already started to be colonised by plants and birds.

Pinky and Perky – which contain activated carbon – will make sure there are no unpleasant smells escaping to spoil the effect.

Robert Griffiths, delivery partner project manager for CLM – the consortium that is responsible for construction on the site, comprising CH2M Hill, Laing O’Rourke and Mace – said: “It doesn’t cost any more to build something with a greener footprint – and this is going to be here for years to come.

“But I never thought I would build anything like this.”

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