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A Taste of Construction Innovation

11 February 2020
Over the past year, Cardiff University students have been enjoying a taste of working life on Cardiff Innovation Campus. Through its Student Construction Ambassador Programme, Bouygues UK has opened its doors to allow Civil Engineering undergraduates to witness the building process at first hand. Here, Adeela Bano, Sophie Chillingworth, Siân Miller and Jasper Chiu share their experiences of life on site.

“Cardiff Innovation Campus is being built by the pioneering construction company Bouygues UK.

Located in the heart of Cardiff, the Campus opens many avenues for innovation and creativity at Cardiff University. It will accommodate cutting-edge facilities, allowing students and researchers across multiple disciplines to collaborate and connect with each other to turn ideas into real products and processes.

Bouygues UK is currently running a Student Construction Ambassador Programme. This programme allows Engineering Undergraduate Students to gain an insight into the construction site and interact with professionals working within the company, giving a better view and understanding of the roles within Civil Engineering.

Construction Ambassadors Programme

The Construction Ambassadors carry out regular site visits and have the opportunity to ask questions about the current construction process.

As part of the scheme, students attend a Health and Safety (H&S) induction and are required to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) before visiting the site.

Bouygues UK has a strong policy related to H&S and everyone onsite is required to wear all the PPE (hard hats, gloves, high visibility vest, safety glasses, safety boots, and ear protection).

During a site visit last autumn, we were about to view the Innovation Central building, where part of the oculus staircase was already installed in the lower floors, as the shape of the staircase prevents access to the lower floors for the staircase to be installed once multiple floors have been constructed.

This is the first Oculus staircase to be installed in the UK. As with all novel approaches, the installation presented logistical challenges.

An Oculus stair is moved into place

Throughout the project, Bouygues UK has been working with Network Rail to plan the construction process. This is so the process does not negatively affect the running of trains.

For example, to prevent the potential of piling rigs falling onto the rail line, piling rigs were positioned perpendicularly to the rail track. At each phase of the construction, Network Rail are asked to approve the construction method.

Another challenge faced during the construction process was the visible concrete requirement, part of the Innovation Central building design. The company was required to make certain columns aesthetically pleasing, as these columns will be visible after completion of the project, requiring the visible concrete to have a polished finish.

Challenges of erecting the campus do not stop there. In addition to the Innovation Centre, the site will also be the future home of the Institute for Compound Semiconductors – which works closely with CS Connected, the world’s first CS cluster – and Cardiff Catalysis Institute.

Research equipment which is extremely sensitive to vibration will be used within the facility, so Bouygues UK must follow stringent design requirements to satisfy its future usage.

Technology improves by the day, an upgrade in the equipment during the delays in construction meant that an even higher standard of vibration dampening needs to be achieved, causing additional difficulty in the whole process. As mentioned beforehand, the site is directly adjacent to a trainline as well as residential area, these factors only amplify the challenges Bouygues is facing.

Despite the exceptionally high specification of the facilities, the construction of the Innovation Campus is scheduled to be completed in 2020. Our visit has helped us understand the long multi-layered process of construction and the challenges that we, as future Civil Engineers, will undoubtedly face in our career.”

We hope to continue making visits and learn even more about the construction industry.

Our Experiences

Sophie – “ The site visit was an amazing experience, and a great opportunity to gain an understanding on how a construction site is operated. We were given a tour of the site, including Innovation Central and the Translational Research Facility, in which we encountered some of the stunning facilities currently being constructed. One feature that particularly sparked my interest is the Oculus Staircase, currently being constructed in Innovation Central it is the first of its kind (in the UK) and reflects the truly innovative ideas that could be created in the buildings once completed.”

Jasper – “ The site visit was an invaluable learning experience, allowing me to gain additional insight on how buildings are built according to the client’s designs and vision, compromises that had to be made, as well as how the site is kept safe during the construction process. Nick also explained to us the unique challenges and requirements that have to be met to suit the building’s future uses, expanding our knowledge to more than just what our course requires. I have truly enjoyed the visit and hope to return again in the near future.”

Siân – “Visiting the Innovation Campus Construction Site has been engaging and interesting because at each site visit, something new is happening as the project continues, so there is always more to see and learn. So far I have visited the site three times at different stages of the project, and have noticed that not only does the project progress but so does the site layout. It has been interesting to hear about the challenges of the project from Nick, offering the point of view of the contractors on-site. This has influenced my views on future career paths, as I am now more inclined towards contracting. I’d definitely recommend this experience to other Civil Engineering Students.”

Adeela – “Being a Student Construction Ambassador with Bouygues UK has been an invaluable and unique experience so far. The site visit on the 25th Oct 2019 was a great experience, as it allowed me to have an insight of a fully operative construction site and see how H&S is prioritised over other things and cannot be compromised. The site visit gave me the opportunity to ask questions to professionals who have years of experience on their shoulders and are determined to inspire the next generation of Engineers. It has been an informative and truly inspiring experience. I hope to visit the site again and follow the construction process alongside my studies.”