Four years have passed since we watched the industrial revolution unfold in minutes under Brunel’s watchful eye in London’s Olympic Stadium. Brought to life by director Danny Boyle, the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games was a feat of engineering in its own right, celebrating the engineers and innovators who led us out of England’s rural past and into the economic and social revolution that brought us here today. The spectacle even paid homage to inaugural QEPrize winner Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, for transforming the way we communicate.
Engineering the Olympics didn’t stop there. From the stadium where the Games began, to the Thomas Heatherwick designed Olympic cauldron that held the flame until the closing ceremony, every sport, article of clothing and piece of equipment was intricately engineered. As this year’s Olympic Games get underway in Brazil, we take a look at some of the engineering behind Rio 2016.
Over the course of the Games, more than 480,000 visitors are expected to swell the streets of Rio de Janeiro, cheering their home teams as they vie for gold. Four separate Olympic sites are spread across the city, offering athletes a full view of the vibrant life of Rio. A brand new rapid bus route, the Transolímpica, has been constructed; existing venues have been renovated and new ones built; and Rio has welcomed what is said to be the largest Athlete’s Village in Olympic history.
When it comes to engineering an event as large as the Olympics however, it is best to start with the basics. Working alongside their sister consultancy firm, Useful Simple Projects, British firm Expedition Engineering were tasked with just that; developing an approach to ensure the supply and security of clean, safe water to residents, athletes and visitors. The resulting water strategy would cover the 150,000 square-metre Barra da Tijuca site, where the majority of Olympic events would take place.
A massive task in itself, the key to designing the water strategy was in first understanding the local context and potential challenges that could arise. Having successfully implemented the strategy for the London 2012 Games, Expedition were keen to use their experience to help build the legacy of Rio.
Not only would engineers need to provide sufficient access to clean, sustainable water for the duration of the Olympics, the strategy also had to be able to continue after the athletes had left, where such a peak in demand would be unlikely to arise again. In order to fully understand the demands on water they would be dealing with, the team turned to computer modelling.
During the planning for London 2012, there was little data available on how people might use the Olympic space, providing a huge obstacle when creating the models. Without sufficient information, the end strategy could lead to costly over-engineering, or even worse, under-engineering of essential water provision. With the success of the previous Games behind them, the team had the benefit of a much greater understanding of water consumption patterns to take with them to Rio.
Judith Sykes, a director at Expedition who worked with Aecom on the Barra masterplan said: “The most important factor to remember was that no two solutions are the same. The heart of engineering lies in understanding the context, and engineering solutions that respond to each situation, taking into account the vast differences in social and environmental landscapes.”
With this in mind, their attention in Rio turned to the resilience of water systems. Expedition wanted to ensure that there was sufficient capacity to meet the huge water demands present throughout the Games, without burdening the city’s residents with maintaining an expensive and over-engineered infrastructure after their guests had left. To do so, the team worked with local authorities to test temporary storage solutions, a concept similar to the nomadic architecture of the venues. To reduce demand for water, the plan specified efficient fittings and recommended rainwater harvesting for landscape irrigation. Finally, the strategy covered the collection and treatment of wastewater, surface water drainage design and the integration of sustainable drainage features with the nearby Jacarepugua Lagoon.