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More than roads and bridges

Civil Engineering By Helen Solimena, Senior Executive, Marketing and Business Development – 16 November 2021

Old sone bridge with two arches over a still lake leading to an old thatched yellow house


Helen Solimena in flower top on white background with drawings

Helen Solimena

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According to the Collins English dictionary, the definition of civil engineering is; ‘the planning, design, and building of roads, bridges, harbours, and public buildings’ and uses the following example ‘London’s sewerage network was the biggest civil engineering project in the world at the time.’ It doesn’t sound very glamorous or interesting to me!

After putting it off, it was time to tackle the list of Cundall’s projects that focused on civil engineering that needed to be written for inclusion in bids and on the Cundall website. I just want to point out that our teams are great, we have lots of laughs and get on well, but the thought of sitting and writing a hand full of profiles about drains didn’t really excite me.

That was until I started interviewing the engineers involved. I soon learnt that there is so much more to the discipline than drains and car parks. In simple terms a lot of the work is drains and car parks, but the systems our engineers design save money and add value to our clients – as well as protecting the environment and preventing their developments from flooding!

I have recently written up a profile on the works that we are doing at Ashford Designer Outlet in Kent. This £90m extension is adding 50 shops, food court and a car park extension adding 725 parking spaces. But the site falls under flood zone 3, meaning it’s at a higher rate of flooding. So, to cater for this the ‘boring’ car park in an area that floods means designing permeable paving with a system to allow the water to drain away slowly into the ground. But its more than just the surface, what about the lighting and security that’s being designed by other teams? They need to know about water levels so that the electrics can be housed above to avoid electrocution. These are all things I didn’t even give a second thought about.

By far my favourite has been learning about the design specified for the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC). Over the years we have done a lot of work at Wimbledon and the famous courts, however this is the new development at Raynes Park (Phase 2). Our civils team was tasked to undertake a feasibility study of the existing site to look at how the site may be developed to the aspirations of the AELTC whilst dealing with the historic flooding problems caused by surface water and overland flows. But it’s the Geocellular storage system that really caught my eye! Forgetting the fancy name, and remembering I am not an engineer, it looks like a stack of milk crates in the ground that sits in lining and holds rain water. The cool thing about this is the capacity and what it’s used for. This system will essentially be an underground water butt which will be used in the summer by the AELTC to irrigate their pitches (pretty cool idea seeing as we have seen a recent hosepipe ban due to the hot weather we have had). The design allows it to hold 100m3, which is big when you consider 1 cubic metre is the equivalent to 1000 litres, so is a great example of rainwater harvesting.

The design specified has been tested by using a full hydraulic model which simulated rainfall based on location, climate change and the 1 in 100-year event. The team were able to test the design and balance the system to ensure the most efficient design was achieved.

So, I think I am going to stop giving the civil team a hard time as its much more than a bridge or a road. I certainly have a new understanding and (more importantly) appreciation of what our civil team does across the practice, maybe Collins dictionary should revisit their definition.