Imperial College London

Iconic bridge wins award with a little help from Imperial students

A view of the scale model of the Infinity Bridge

Constructionarium initiative helps major engineering company win prestigious award <em>- News</em>

Monday 9 October 2009
By Colin Smith

An iconic bridge that began life as a scale model constructed by Imperial students has won a prestigious award.

Engineers from the consultancy firm Expedition Engineering won the Institution of Structural Engineers' Supreme Award for Structural Engineering in October 2009 for the design of the Infinity Bridge, which is in Stockton-on-Tees. The judges described it as “a bold and daring design that demonstrates what can be done with artistic flair, technical excellence, complex analysis and excellent engineering teamwork.”

Second and third year undergraduates who studied at Imperial in 2004 and 2005 played an instrumental role in constructing designs of the bridge, which consists of two differently sized steel arches that run in parallel along the length of the bridge, supporting a suspended concrete decking. The students worked with representatives from Expedition Engineering to construct 1:20 scale model replicas, as part of the College’s award winning ‘Constructionarium’ project.

This project is run each year by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Undergraduates take a week off lectures and go out into the field, where they use construction materials and methods to create structures such as buildings, bridges and dams. The initiative teaches undergraduates about the design and construction process and gives them insights into what it will be like to work as engineers on major projects when they graduate.

In 2004 and 2005, the undergraduates travelled to the National Construction College in Norfolk, where a specially landscaped site had been prepared for the project. A small river was created to replicate what conditions would be like on the River Tees. The students then formed their own construction company and were assigned different job roles such as budget controller, chief engineer and site manager and went about building the footbridge under the supervision of Imperial staff and representatives from Expedition Engineering.

Ms Alison Ahearn, Constructionarium co-ordinator from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, says:

“Our students helped the Expedition Engineers to take their 2-D plans on paper and bring them to life in 3-D before the real bridge was built. Building the Constructionarium version of the bridge created an opportunity for the engineers to look at critical points in the construction method, the effectiveness of the transfer of load through the mid-point piers and a chance to appreciate the aesthetic impact of the design.”

Dr Sunday Popo-Ola, Constructionarium tutor from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, added:

“Building a replica of the Infinity Bridge really helped the students to experience first-hand some of the difficulties of working on bridge projects. The students learnt a lot about how to construct bridge foundations in running water and gained new insights into the resources, materials, time constraints and manpower needed to bring these very complex structures to completion. The students also helped Expedition Engineering to see the best way to put the bridge together.”

Thanks to the help of Imperial undergraduates, the engineers from the firm were able to test that the concrete decking did not wobble when it was built. the engineers were also able to test what construction sequence worked best, so that builders had a plan that enabled them to put the real bridge pieces together in the most efficient and effective way.

The real Infinity Bridge was completed in December 2008. It now links Teesdale Business Park and the University of Durham’s Queen Campus on the south bank with a £320 million regeneration project on the north bank.

Scroll through the slide show below to see a pictorial overview of some of the Constructionarium projects.


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