Article - Issue 51, June 2012

Olympic Legacies

Dr Scott Steedman CBE FREng

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Dr Scott Steedman FREng

Dr Scott Steedman CBE FREng

The London Olympics 2012 has already set many new benchmarks. The planning, site preparation and construction of dozens of new facilities, some of them described in this issue of Ingenia, should dismiss for good the notion that Britain cannot complete complex projects on cost and on time. These achievements are a great credit to the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and its partners. Much has been said about the legacy that the Games will leave for the people of East London but, for the engineering sector and UK plc, another legacy deserves at least equal attention.

The physical fabric that underpins our quality of living depends greatly on the work of engineers, but how we achieve this is mostly shrouded in mystery – only the artefact itself remains. The culture of documenting projects through publication of case histories has dwindled to a few isolated examples, often published years after the event, when memories have started to fade. Client confidentiality, fear of litigation, or simply lack of time and commitment are commonly cited as reasons for our failure to document what worked and what didn’t.

In fact, we rarely expose the entirety of how we actually build anything. Small wonder that it is so hard to disseminate good practice across the tens of thousands of companies in the UK’s construction industry.

So it is refreshing to find that, in addition to the physical legacy in and around the Olympic sites, the ODA has also constructed a ‘virtual legacy’. It has done this in the form of a comprehensive archive that sets out ‘to capture the programme’s intellectual capital’. This ‘Learning Legacy’ is attached to the London 2012 website and illustrates how the people and companies involved delivered this programme of projects. Case studies, tools, templates and reports are provided in a remarkable library of information that describes how many key aspects of the construction process were undertaken and the lessons learned.

Sir John Armitt FREng, in his introduction to the Learning Legacy, explains that the ODA’s aim is to share the knowledge, “to help raise the bar within the sector” and to act as a showcase for UK plc. This it most certainly does. The archive is structured under 10 themes, from design and engineering innovation through procurement and supply chain management to sustainability and transport.

The Learning Legacy project is not a record of engineering designs, calculations or technical reports. Instead it provides an overview of how the engineering challenges were met; how it was built, not what was built. Using ‘micro-reports’, videos, case studies and research papers prepared by the individuals that undertook the work, the Learning Legacy site is an exemplar resource for students, professionals and the public to explore how the best of British construction can deliver on time and under budget. We learn not only about the engineering, but how the ODA met its sustainability targets; how the project embraced equality and inclusion in employment and community relations; and with a workforce peaking at around 13,000 on site and a total of around 40,000 employees, how the project achieved an outstanding health and safety record throughout the five years of construction.

We now have an opportunity to build on this Olympic momentum. Many new infrastructure projects are in progress or in the pipeline. Crossrail is just one example. All will have lessons to learn and targets to achieve that can build on the ODA’s experience.

The Olympic Learning Legacy also sets a new standard for transparency that should become a role model for government-funded engineering projects. The Academy and the engineering institutions together could promote such a strategy, with its obvious benefits to the public and industry alike. Which project will be the next to commit to delivering its own Learning Legacy?

It was a remarkable achievement to win the 2012 Olympic Games for London and an even more remarkable achievement to design and engineer the venues, accommodation, security, telecommunications and transportation systems ready for use on time and under budget. British engineering excellence has set the scene for an extraordinary summer on the world stage. The ODA has raised the bar. Let us make sure it is a lasting legacy for all engineering projects, and not just the Olympic infrastructure.

Dr Scott Steedman CBE FREng

The Legacy website is at

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