(Professor Steve Rodgers, Anusree Saseendran)
Construction Science students from Texas A&M University became the first sole university team from the United States to participate in the British “Constructionarium” program when we completed the iconic Gherkin project in a record 4 1/2 days during our study abroad program during the Summer of 2016.
“The Gherkin” is a uniquely designed 180 meter tall commercial building in the center of London. Constructionarium is a partnership of industry and academia located on a former Royal Air Force base at Bircham-Newton in the remote northeast of England. It provides university students an opportunity to “turn theory into practice” by participation in the planning, budgeting, project management and “hands-on” construction of scaled down versions of highly recognizable structures from around the world.
We arrived in London in May and began visits to construction sites throughout the city. A faculty member, Judge Ray Grisham, accompanied them during the time and delivered course work covering the legal aspects of contracting, project management, communications and risk management. By the beginning of June we had received the initial planning requirements, plans, drawings and specifications for our construction of a 1/10 scale replica of the Gherkin. We organized ourselves, job assignments were made and scheduling was set out. When we arrived on site at Bircham- Newton on June 18 we were ready to begin work.
After introductions to the Constructionarium personnel, consisting of a “virtual owner” for reporting purposes and an industry field representative, safety briefings were finalized and we trekked to the field for site review and initial surveying. Concrete was procured and scheduled for the following morning for foundation work and excavation was completed. The following morning found record rainfall occurring across England including at the construction site. Having completed the formwork for the foundation, we were told to stay in place and were issued “slickers”. They completed the concrete work in pouring rain at the insistence of the virtual owner who adamantly opposed any weather delays in his project.
The following morning the skies cleared, the site was drained and the steel erection initialized. Construction was made using pre-fabricated steel components that had to be built, fitted and lifted into place using third party crane work scheduled and managed by us.
Each night following the field work, the reporting requirements to the virtual owner were fulfilled at “business meetings”. The individual field assignments from project manager to safety officer to accounting and scheduling were all presented to the virtual owner who, not uncommonly, was unhappy with what he was being told regarding the anticipated construction times and budget estimates. Hard questions were asked and appropriate answers had to be found among us. By the fourth meeting night we had honed our communication skills to a point that the owner was growing more satisfied that his building would come in on time and within his budget.
As the week progressed our confidence and competence increased by leaps and bounds. The steelwork came together more quickly, the lifts accomplished more efficiently, safety issues mitigated more seamlessly and in general the project developed its own smooth momentum toward not only a timely but an early completion time.
The Constructionarium personnel interacting with us in the field told us at our final meeting that we “were a credit not only to our university but a credit to our nation.” As a final tribute to us upon completion the Constructionarium office presented us with a “Texas A&M University – 2016” Constructionarium banner to hang on the completed structure. Although the structures are typically removed immediately after the students leave, the Texas A&M Gherkin in Bircham-Newton will be left in place throughout the remainder of 2016, complete with banner and an Aggie flag, as a tribute to the work performed by us – the first Construction Science Department students from Texas A&M University to participate.