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Architectural Association SED Keynote Lecture 2012

Event:  Architectural Association School of Architecture SED Keynote Lecture 2012
Date:  17th January 2012

Higher.  Faster.  Stronger.  That’s the Olympic motto but it could just as well be a motto for good engineering practice, and certainly the London 2012 games will provide the capital with some of its most memorable buildings for years to come.  With this in mind it was with great anticipation that Amy Ramsook, Andrew Saville and I went along to the AA School of Architecture’s lecture on the design and construction of the Velodrome.  Ed McCann (Expedition Engineering), Mike Taylor (Hopkins Architects) and Gustavo Brunelli (BDSP) were the speakers for the evening, eager to present the project from a architectural, structural and services engineering point of view respectively.


Mike Taylor started the evening off and spoke eloquently about the design process, bringing to life the evolution of such a complex project through bold simple slides.  It is always fascinating to see the thoughts and ideas of a skilled architect.  It reminds us as engineers of all the work that goes into a building before a single thermal calculation has even taken place.  A surprising revelation was when Mike described the decision to wrap spectators around the entire circumference of the track, something which apparently had not been done before in a velodrome.

Mike then handed on to Ed McCann for an insight into the incredible structural engineering inherent in such a showpiece building.  Ed’s quote about cycling capturing the zeitgeist with its emphasis on low weight, no excess, low carbon and high efficiency had many in the audience nodding their heads and certainly young engineers could do worse than take a good look at bicycles as an example of good process.  With the introduction of BIM such a hot topic within the construction industry it was quite reassuring to hear Ed describe how complex parametric 3D analysis and small wooden scale models/sketches had informed engineers’ opinions when constructing the velodrome roof.  It seems that there will always be a place for pen and paper in an engineer’s world!

Being a building services engineer, I was particularly keen to hear about Gustavo Brundelli’s experience with the project, and the Brazilian did not disappoint, fascinating the audience with a mixture of anecdotes and delightful cut-away sections of the stadium and its ingenious packaged services solutions.  Gustavo commenced by describing the incredible range of temperature constraints unique to a cycling arena; cyclists like it warm (a one degree rise in temperature is equivalent to a one millisecond improvement in times!) but spectators want it cool, good air movement is vital but any hint of a draft and competitors will be blown off course!  I don’t think I will ever complain again about office workers criticising drafty chiller beams...

There was plenty to admire in the design of the ventilation system, with a large emphasis on natural vent combining with mechanical assistance when and only when required.  The fact that the Velodrome is the most energy efficient venue in the Olympic Park is a testament to this kind of approach and sets the building apart as a real lesson for young designers and engineers alike.  The lecture was clear in its message; the project team had looked at a bicycle and adhered to the philosophy that every part on a bike has a purpose, there is no excess weight.  Likewise the Velodrome should be as clean and efficient a design as possible with services wrapped around the shell much as a lycra suit might hug a gold medallist cyclist.  The finished product is a genuinely amazing building that shows what can be done when designers, engineers and contractors work together really well.  From a personal point of view I wish I had been born ten years earlier such that I might have had the privilege of working on such a project!  Oh well, there’s always 2020!
Jairo A Jaramillo