June 24, 2016

(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.

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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.

3The 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.

45Each 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.

6As 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.

7  89The 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.

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June 24, 2016, Friday

(Sylvia Castorena)

Today was our last day at Constructionarium. Motivations were high to complete the Gherkin at a record time. As we all had our final breakfast in the restaurant of Constructionarium, we watched on the TV screens as newscasters announced that the UK would be leaving the EU. Here was history unraveling before us.

After breakfast,  we took the familiar route to the construction site where the Gherkin stood almost complete. Our final tasks were to finish setting the last tie rods, install the last flooring, and finally place the top dome piece on the Gherkin.

The top dome was placed at exactly 9:55 am. Everyone celebrated and took pictures of the finished building. As proud and honored Aggies, we sang the war hymn atop the Gherkin in light of our success! Before the building could be handed over to the Owner, we needed to complete all a few more items on the punch list before we were truly done. We turned in the Gherkin to the happy Owner at 11:00 am. The only thing left for us to do was finish cleaning the site and the offices.

Everyone left extremely happy and relieved to have finished the Gherkin. The Owner and Foreman were pleased with our hard work and determination. Constructionarium has allowed the students to gain a hands on experience in constructing an actual building from start to finish. It has also improved our leadership and teamwork skills a great deal. I’m sure everyone agrees that this has been an a great experience and opportunity. We would like to thank all the wonderful staff from Constructionarium that helped us throughout the week.

June 23, 2016, Thursday

(Trevor Carey)

Today was the busiest and the most stressful day at Constructionarium so far. We started off the day a few hours behind schedule and we all had to be very productive and sharp in order to catch up to our schedule. We met this morning at 6:50 a.m. in order to walk together as a team to breakfast at 7:00 a.m. The past few days at Constructionarium exhausted us mentally so we did what every other student does when they are tired and need to finish an assignment on time – we drank copious amounts of coffee to rejuvenate our minds.

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IMG_2626We arrived at the job site around 7:40 a.m. to prepare for the day and then kicked off our workday with a safety meeting. Our workday consisted of a lot of manpower allocation in order to complete subtasks to allow us to complete out main tasks. For example, we had a few people use a wire brush to clean the rust off of bolts before we actually erected the steel in the field so that we wouldn’t have to clean the bolts at the time of erection, putting us further behind schedule.

Our first task of the day was to erect the level two and three shell on top of the existing shell. To do this we had to order a mobile crane, lift the two levels at once, set it upon the structure, and fasten the bottom plates of level two to the top plates of level one. 

IMG_2576While this was going on, a few of us calculated the radius of level two from the center point of the entire structure, to the centerline of the outer shell support plates so that we could run all-thread rods from the exterior structure to the interior structure. We then tightened the all-thread rods to adjust to the correct radius so that the flooring sections would fit properly on top of the level two support platforms. After this, we had the mobile crane lower all eight flooring sections onto the level two support plates one at a time and bolted each of them in before the next section was set.

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In order to enact more safety precautions we installed toe-boards, boards that extent upon the side of the structure, so that no one could accidentally fall of the side of the Gherkin. We ordered lunch to be delivered to us so that we could eat quickly and keep the momentum going. After we conquered the learning curve of erecting the shell and flooring of the Gherkin we quickly assembled and erected levels four through seven as well as the flooring on level four.

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We made an amazing comeback and gained ground in order to finish the day back on schedule. Steve Maher, one of our assisting superintendents stated that we are, “on track to finish the Gherkin faster than any other university that has ever built the Gherkin. You all have represented your University very well. Your country should be proud.”

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June 22, 2016, Wednesday

(Davis Jorgenson)

Today we made a lot of progress on the Gherkin. We did not make as much headway as we had scheduled for, but our client was very happy with our progress and hard work. We also welcomed Professor Rodgers to the UK by showing him the site and what we had accomplished thus far.

IMG_5357IMG_5382We started our morning at 7 – we ate a good breakfast and went straight to the site for our safety meeting at 8 am. Our first major task of the day consisted of “striking” or wrecking the “shutters” or formwork from the previous day’s concrete pour. The inner core and ring turned out to be extremely flat and accurate. Having the correct elevations between the core slab and shell slab was critical. After we wrecked the formwork we backfilled to the correct elevations and began laying out the column locations for the core and the shell.

IMG_5361Our steel crew started cranking out the steel rings of the Gherkin which allowed us to set the core up to Level 3 and Level 0 shell. We had some issues with bolting the core to the foundation, but we quickly improvised and fixed the situation by using a different fastening technique.

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We ended the day with a majority of the shell built out and ready for the crane to pick up and place on top of each other. With two days left, we are still very confident that we will finish on time and make a hefty profit. However, without the help of Steve (Pictured Below), we would not have been able to be at this point in the project.

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June 21, 2016, Tuesday

(Cody Smith)

Today started with sunshine and a perfect temperature – a vast difference from the stormy day we had yesterday. Our main focus this morning was laying out the location for the Gherkin’s formwork. We arrived early to see if the concrete we poured the previous day had set, and we were relieved to find that we had a level surface to work on this morning.

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We ran into a small problem while figuring out the surveying equipment, but after putting our heads together and with a little guidance from the Constructionarium staff, we had our layout for the Gherkin by mid-morning.

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IMG_6318This was followed by laying out the formwork. We quickly had the core formwork and rebar in the pit, which led to the most crucial part of the day – the Peri shuttering system. Flying the pre-assembled forms, bracing, and checking the elevations required all hands on deck, and we managed to meet our drop-dead time of 3:30 p.m. for pre-pour inspection.

IMG_6321At 4:00 p.m. the concrete truck arrived, and our concrete gang was dressed and ready to go. We completed our pour around 5:00 p.m. and met our goal of pouring out by the end of the day.

IMG_6326We ended the day with a meal together at the cafeteria and a meeting with the owner to inform him that we are on schedule, on budget, and ready to start erecting the Gherkin tomorrow.

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June 21, 2016, Monday

(Jordan Stogsdill)

Today we started construction of the Gherkin. The Gherkin is a famous building situated in the heart of London’s city center. We have been presented with the unique opportunity to construct this project from start to finish in only six days’ time. We are fully in charge of every aspect of its construction, from management to labor.

This morning we started work bright and early at 8:00 am. Our safety staff were in a scramble trying to get method statements completed so labor could start breaking ground. The activities of the day consisted of four students getting power tool-trained to be able to construct formwork for the concrete pour in the afternoon.

There was a heavy downpour during the concrete pour, so our excavation site turned into a mud hole in no time. This afternoon, we had a meeting with the owners. Unfortunately, we were not as prepared with the finances as we should have been, so the owner was a little angry. At the meeting, we went through our progress of the day and identified where we could use some improvement. We also set out the critical path of tomorrow’s work schedule and the scope of work to be completed.

June 17, 2016, Friday

(Diego Montemayor)

IMG_4262On our last day in London before we leave for Constructionarium, we met with Allen Westgate, project director of Builders Sisk Contractors, for a site visit of 55VS. The project is the construction of luxury apartments ranging from studio flats estimated to be worth at least 800,000 pounds to split-level penthouse residences. They are worth up to 14 million pounds! The project began in 2014 and is expected to be completely turned in by April 2017.

IMG_4264Our site visit started by walking up the stairs to the top of the building (12 floors), from where we eventually worked our way down to the 8th floor. The first 7 floors consisted of studio flats which had been already turned in to the owner. The higher level apartments consisted of both flats and penthouse residences which were still in construction; some more advanced than others. All these apartments had amazing views – Buckingham palace, Westminister abbey, Parliament are some iconic buildings that could be admired from the top floor.

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The site visit took up about 2 hours. After that we had a free day to enjoy our last day in London, and to pack our bags for Constructionarium.IMG_4282

June 16, 2016, Thursday

(Chris Schultz)

In the morning, we visited the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA), where we met Mr. Jim O’Neil, Technical Director of ECA, and Paul Jackson, Commecial Advisor of ECA. The first part of the presentation was over what ECA is and the services they provide their members. ECA is a trade association that assists electrical subcontractors throughout the United Kingdom. They provide their members with training seminars, support and guidance on best practices, and health and safety guidelines. ECA also lobbies with government agencies, provides debt recovery services, and helps resolve employee disputes.

The second part of the presentation covered the English legal system and the events that formed the system into what it is today. In the old days, England was controlled by the King and Barons. There was a constant struggle for power and control between the Barons and the King. In 1215, the Barons forced the King to sign the Magna Carta, laying out basic rights that the King could not infringe on, but the King ignored it.

IMG_1125Two court cases that set precedent in the English system are Donoghue vs Stevenson and Carlill vs Carbolic Smoke Ball Company. In the Donoghue case a lady drank a ginger beer with a decomposed snail in the bottle and got sick. This case set the precedent that the provider of a good needs to ensure that quality of their product will not harm the consumer. In the Carlill case a lady consumed a product that was guaranteed to cure influenza. After consumption the product did not cure the flu so Carlill decided to sue. This case set the precedent that if a product was advertised to be able to perform a certain task that that product must be able to perform that task.

After the presentation,  we were provided with a sandwich lunch, during which we continued our discussions with Mr. O’Neil and Mr. Jackson, about the similarities and differences between construction law in the US and the UK. It was a very informative day for all of us.

June 15, 2016, Wednesday

(Justin Adams)

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Today we visited the Royal Courts of Justice.  The Royal Courts of Justice houses four different courts – the Admiralty, Chancery, Technology and Construction, and the Bankruptcy Court.  While the Admiralty Court is the oldest, and now, the broadest court, the Technology and Construction court or TCC is the most technological savvy and the newest court housed within the Royal Courts of Justice. We were able to take a short tour of the courts, and assembled in the Technology and Construction Court for a brief discussion.  The courtroom was different than the ones we are used to seeing.

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There are no human witnesses who approach the bench, excluding expert witnesses (who are duty bound to the court only) and those used only to verify signatures. There is no lawyer (solicitor) but barristers for litigation purposes. Barristers are self-employed and specialize in litigation; they share expenses and operate under the same roof as the other barristers in the TCC. How it works is the client’s solicitor, after communicating amongst themselves, recommends litigation and hires a barrister on the clients’ behalf. In the actual courtroom the client sits on the back row, solicitor in the middle row and the barristers in the front row.

As for the judges, they are appointed by a panel for lifetime terms. Of course, the Queen must give her “approval,” but it is still up to the panel. What was also interesting was the “chess clock cases” that the TCC administers. Chess Clock Cases are exactly how it seems.  Each side has a limited amount of time to present their side and once complete they hit a clock to signify the opponents’ turn.  I wish we had time to talk to the judges and solicitors from the other courts. Today we learned of the legal court system used in London on smaller scale, so we still have a lot to learn.

June 14, 2016, Tuesday

(Dalye Alfaro)

On Tuesday morning, we broke into two groups to tour Lloyd’s of London – a pioneer in insurance. The first group met at the Lloyd office at 9:30, the second group met at 10:45. Before we began our tour led by Mr. Peter Fletcher, a retired broker at Lloyd’s, we were issued personalized visitor badges. During the presentation, we were informed that Lloyd’s does not actually insure anything. On the other hand, they are a marketplace that houses approximately 55 managing agents that manage approximately 90 syndicates. We were informed that while  Lloyd’s insures many of the world’s largest companies, including 81% of Fortune 500 US companies, they insure anything from Taylor Swift’s legs to a coffee taster’s tastebuds.

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The current Lloyd’s building is 11 levels high, and was completed in 1985. The architect Richard Rogers used a very modern style when designing the building specifically for Lloyd’s. It took eight years to finish, and cost £170 million. A neat, and unexpected, attribute in this building is the Adam Room. The Adam Room was originally built in England’s countryside and has been moved twice: once into Lloyd’s’ previous building and once into their current building. In order to transport this room, however, they had to cut the room into 1500 pieces, which  were later reassembled on site.
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This afternoon, we went to the National Liberal Club as a group, where the Society of Construction Law was meeting. During the meeting, two committee members spoke about the SCL Delay & Disruption Protocol- Proposed changes in the 2nd edition. The meeting was very educational and provided insight on how construction law in the United Kingdom operates. IMG_0158IMG_0159IMG_0160IMG_0162IMG_0166IMG_0169