Tell us about the early design brief
We designed a solution to create a temporary, level, Olympic-standard field of play for the jumping, dressage, eventing and Paralympic equestrian events while minimising damage to the historic Greenwich Park site.
What inspired your design?
The inspiration for the elevated platform concept came from retail warehouses. With huge quantities of products towering all the way to the ceiling, it is vital that the floor does not create much vibration so they don’t topple over.
What challenges did you face along the way?
The dressage and show jumping required a flat, firm surface that allowed horse and rider to perform at their best. Greenwich Park is on a slope, so at its highest point the 100m x 100m field of play was almost three metres off the ground. The events took place on an elevated platform, consisting of a steel frame and a suspended timber deck, which was designed to mimic the qualities of solid ground.
The platform was made from 219 panels held up by 2,000 legs and is capable of supporting loads of up to 20kN/m2 – which is the equivalent to the static weight of a large family car – while distributing weight evenly to the ground below to protect the underlying surface. We considered alternative surfaces, including platforms made from either natural earth, expanded polystyrene or traditional scaffolding, however these were discounted due to either the high number of lorry movements to get the materials to site, the wastage or the vibration levels.
Did you know…
- The London 2012 Games was the first time equestrian events were held on a raised platform. This has created a legacy for the sport which means the same platform concept can be used to allow events of this type to be held on almost any site, anywhere in the world. Horses are more sensitive to vibration than humans, but very little data exists to demonstrate how much it affects them. Although engineers could measure the vibrations in the platform, they couldn’t ask the horses how much they could feel. Atkins recruited international show jumpers, who have an instinctive feel for how their horses are coping with a surface, to test the platform before approving it.
What about specific design challenges?
When developing the venue, engineering design consultants Atkins had to consider several key features. Greenwich Park is a World Heritage Site and the team had to prepare over 200 drawings to deliver the environmental impact assessment to demonstrate to the authorities that the venue had been planned to minimise the impacts. The venue also had to be designed in line with strict International Equestrian Federation (FEI) regulations. They dictate that dressage and jumping events have to take place on a flat surface and that the aerial view of Greenwich Park showing the test event set up, longitudinal fall on the field of play must be less than one per cent.
In addition, the surface must be firm; horses are very sensitive to vibrations and any ground movement could hamper their performance. When a horse leaves the ground to jump a fence it causes some vibration in the platform. However, engineers installed measures to make sure that by the time the horse lands within a matter of seconds, the vibrations have gone.
How did it feel to be involved in such an important British project?
The Sydney Olympics in 2000 was previously the biggest user of temporary venues and we are very proud that we doubled that. No other engineering consultancy has been involved in such large and unique works for a temporary event, and we provided the complete range of engineering disciplines, from accessibility through to public health and fire engineering.
The biggest technical challenge was transforming some of the finest buildings in London into temporary sporting venues so millions of people globally could see the Games played out in some of the most famous sites in the world. This was a vast technical challenge, often requiring us to come up with innovative solutions to unique scenarios.
I do not believe there is any other job that could give such a sense of achievement and pride. The London 2012 Games was a fantastic opportunity to show what the construction community can deliver and the opportunity to mix with many different professions and stakeholders has been very stimulating.