Field Trip Report

Two weeks ago, the students of civil engineering at University College London, went to central London for a field trip on foot. Starting from Waterloo station, several places were visited, namely: the London Eye, the Waterloo Bridge, the Hungerford Bridge and the Victoria Embankment. Being new to civil engineering, this field trip had as objective to create awareness of the structures that are used in buildings to support them and to understand them.

Initially, there was the former Eurostar roof at Waterloo station which had a discontinuous semi-circle shape. Half of the roof is covered with curved steel sheets while the other half is covered with curved and thick glass; allowing sunlight to pass through. The structures trussing half of the roof are found on the top and the structures trussing the second half are on the top. In this way, the net bending moment and force on the roof is zero. At the London Eye, also known as the Millennium Wheel, the students saw the cantilevered wheel which has about 30 egg-shaped observation capsules. The whole unit is held by tension wires and two thick compression members. The latter's cross section is thicker in the middle to provide more buckling resistance.

After that, the group walked to the Waterloo Bridge in London Southbank. It is mainly made of concrete that has been reinforced with steel bars. Nonetheless, the concrete is losing its quality with the weather and age since its aggregate is visible at the surface. At the Hungerford Bridge, the students crossed the Thames River. There are two footbridges which are held by several cables that are attached to pylons. Their new design was made in such a way that the weight of the footbridges is not added to the old foundation by using a ring structure which is fixed to the old foundation of the old bridge. The group then reached the Victoria Embankment and the Thames River.

In the old days, the Thames River was mainly used for commerce, especially in winter, as the roads were unusable. It also provided several parts of the city with drinking water. In an attempt to control diseases, the Parliament sent all the waste water, produced domestically and industrially, to the sewers which are directly connected to the river. After some time, the river's water was polluted and gave off a really bad smell. People could not bear the smell and even the Parliament was closed temporarily. The latter tried to reduce the odour by pouring lime in the river but it was to no avail.[1] Subsequently, many people suffered from fatal diseases such as Cholera and the majority passed away[2]. Halliday[3] states that "When the tide ebbed it all came down and so it kept oscillating up and down the river, while more filth was continuously adding to it until the Thames became absolutely pestilential." When Michael Faraday visited Thames, he criticised the pitiful and deplorable condition of the river to The Times[4].

In 1862, an Act was obtained by the Metropolitan Board of Works to construct the Victoria Embankment[5]. Sir Joseph William Bazalgette was the chief civil engineer of the project[6]. Old Bridges and other obstructions along the river were removed. The banks were narrowed by reclaiming an area of 37.25 acres of land to construct the embankment which was 0.75 miles long. However, the closer banks gave rise to higher tides. The embankment consisted of a wide and sealed sewer (8ft diameter) and was connected to other to small sewers. There was also a subway (7ft high, 9ft wide) for water and gas pipes. The Metropolitan District Railway was also built along it, 17.5ft below ground level and was trussed by iron girders. The foundations of the embankment were built 32.5ft below the ground.[7]

The Institution of Civil Engineers[8] explained that "The foundations were formed partly behind whole-tide timber dams driven into clay and partly behind wrought iron caissons. They were carried down to 20ft below datum; they rested mostly on the clay, and were formed of Portland cement concrete up to 12.5ft below datum, at which level of brickwork commenced. The bottom portions of the iron caisson cofferdams were filled with concrete and the piles of wooden cofferdams were cut off under water in order to protect the toe of the wall. The upper portions of the caissons were in half rings. They were bolted together longitudinally, and strips of felt rendered the joint water tight. The dams were supported by timber. In each caisson, there was a sluice for admitting and discharging the tidal waves."

The Victoria Embankment was then opened in 1870. Bazalgette was offered 6000 bonus for his great work.[9] The great stink of London was finally cured and Thames became clean again. Harley[10] states that "Victoria Embankment can be cited as an example of one grand project seen through to fruition. As a conduit for a major outfall sewer it contributed in no small measure to the eradication of water-borne disease. It also drastically altered part of the waterfront of the River Thames, and it inspired other designs for new roads, bridges and buildings."

Indeed, this field trip was very interesting and has been beneficial to the students of civil engineering. The way the students look at buildings and infrastructure has undoubtedly changed now. There is an understanding of how the building is being supported and what are the main materials used for constructing buildings and bridges. As for the Victoria Embankment, which is one of the greatest civil engineering works in London, is an example to follow.

Reference Lists and Bibliographies:

  1. London's Victoria Embankment:including Westminster Bridge, Hungerford Bridge, Waterloo Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge /Robert J. Harley. p.7
  2. The great stink of London:Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the cleansing of the Victorian capital /Stephen Halliday; foreword by Adam Hart-Davis. p.124
  3. The great stink of London:Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the cleansing of the Victorian capital /Stephen Halliday; foreword by Adam Hart-Davis. p.5
  4. London's Victoria Embankment:including Westminster Bridge, Hungerford Bridge, Waterloo Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge /Robert J. Harley. p.7
  5. THE INSTITUTION OF CIVIL ENGINEERS., British Architect, 9:16 (1878:Apr. 18)p.186 ⟨http://britishperiodicals.chadwyck.co.uk.libproxy.ucl.ac.uk/articles/displayItem.do?QueryType=articles&ResultsID=123A8E71052820D43&filterSequence=0&ItemNumber=9&journalID=ea14⟩, [Accessed 09-10-09]
  6. London's Victoria Embankment:including Westminster Bridge, Hungerford Bridge, Waterloo Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge /Robert J. Harley. p.9
  7. THE INSTITUTION OF CIVIL ENGINEERS., British Architect, 9:16 (1878:Apr. 18)p.186
  8. THE INSTITUTION OF CIVIL ENGINEERS., British Architect, 9:16 (1878:Apr. 18) p.186
  9. The great stink of London:Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the cleansing of the Victorian capital /Stephen Halliday; foreword by Adam Hart-Davis. Chronology p.xi
  10. London's Victoria Embankment:including Westminster Bridge, Hungerford Bridge, Waterloo Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge /Robert J. Harley. p.7

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