Engineering the Olympics

London 2012 Paralympic opening ceremony preparations underway in the main stadium. An overcast sky illuminates a multicoloured floor and partly constructed central stage.

29 May 2014


I started my engineering life wanting to be a lawyer, yes, a lawyer. When I was at high school, a career adviser pointed out that I was good at English and debating and should therefore study law at university. I was not so sure about this, so I took Physics and Maths as well. I received and accepted offers to study law at university and my life would have been very different had I not first completed a year in industry which showed me what engineering had to offer!

I cancelled my UCAS places (a pretty stressful experience) and reapplied for engineering on my own. I am now 4 years into the course and, not including assignment deadlines, I am still really enjoying it!

Since starting the degree I have been lucky enough to have several placements with Atkins, the UK's largest engineering consultancy, and I was with their Power Networks team during the summer of 2012. This was London 2012 and Atkins were the consultants for the design of the Olympic Park and site-wide infrastructure for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. I couldn’t resist trying to get into the park and after talking to the right people I arranged to shadow Atkins engineers as they carried out some checks prior to the Paralympic Games opening ceremony.

During the opening and closing ceremonies, there was a huge increase in electrical demand, including an extra 80,000 LED panels on the stadium's seats. Generators were required on-site to supplement the normal electrical supplies. We did manage to make a few detours to the VIP areas and the indoor warm-up tracks for the athletics but had to keep everything secret as rehearsals for the opening ceremony were underway! When it was completed it became one of the largest urban parks to be built in Europe in the last 150 years. The park's design aimed to minimise energy consumption, the Velodrome alone is almost 100 per cent naturally ventilated, uses natural light to reduce energy consumption and rainwater is collected from the roof for flushing toilets and irrigation.

These Olympics aimed to be the greenest and certainly used some impressive engineering techniques. Watching the skill and expertise of the engineers was an inspiration and reaffirmed my desire to be an engineer and not a lawyer. It could all have been so different!

Article part of the 'Young Engineers' series.

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