Going for gold in London infrastructure

With Rio 2016 just over a week away, Mike McNicholas looks back on what can be learned from London 2012 about delivering major infrastructure in the capital.

The Rio 2016 Games opens next week. Can you believe it’s been four years since the London 2012 Games? Four years since the Olympics and Paralympics were all any engineer or designer in London could talk about. Four years since our industry came together to deliver best-in-class infrastructure that put London on the world stage in a big way. 

When I look back on our London 2012 work I’m reminded of the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger). We really took this to heart when we were working on the Games, and pushed ourselves to deliver everything better – to be quicker, more agile and efficient and to do everything at a better quality. Everything we did had to be fit not only for the needs of the Games, but for the needs of future visitors and residents to East London. 

As we prepare for this wonderful summer of sport to reach its crescendo I think now is a good time to reflect on what London 2012 can teach us about delivering infrastructure for London in 2016.  

If we treated every other infrastructure project in London like we did the Olympics just think what we could achieve. Building 50,000 Homes a year, for example, would be planned, managed and delivered just like the Games, with everyone moving in the same direction and committed to an excellent outcome, in a challenging timeframe. 

There are a few basic approaches I believe we can take on other London infrastructure projects to give them that ‘Olympic gold’ standard. 

Invest time upfront - the more time invested upfront, the greater our chance of success. For the London 2012 Games we started working before contracts were even awarded; we need that same momentum and planning to solve London’s housing crisis.

Build common ground - to make major infrastructure projects happen everyone needs a sense of common purpose, common values and common partnership

Use our experts - get the best minds in the industry involved. London 2012 showed the world that the UK has world-class engineers and designers; we need to get these same people working towards delivering London’s future infrastructure

Make the silos disappear - when we deliver big infrastructure the lines are always blurred, whether that’s between disciplines, industries or companies; our only focus should be on the end game

Be adaptable - design everything for adaptability and re-use, we can only imagine what the future holds, so we always need to think ‘How else could this infrastructure be used?’

Engage hearts and minds - in 2012 we didn’t just see figures, we saw London’s vision to provide an Olympic and Paralympic Games like no other and we wanted to be a part of that; we need to give the infrastructure sector a vision of what London could be if all of the houses, schools, hospitals, businesses and green spaces we need for a happy, healthy, productive city were in place

Massive projects like the London 2012 Games and the need to build 50,000 homes a year in the capital require us to bring together the very best of engineering skills from across all disciplines, as early on in the project as we can. At Atkins alone we invested more than a thousand years of our engineering and design experts’ time in delivering the Games. Imagine if we put all of that expertise and effort into solving London’s housing crisis and other infrastructure challenges. 

Mike McNicholas is managing director, Infrastructure, at Atkins.