Cable Car breakfast talk

Friday 13 July 2012

The Cable Car project spanning the Thames could not have been built without high-level proficiency in complex engineering or the full backing of mayor Boris Johnson.

That was one of the key sentiments to come from a presentation on the Emirates Air Line project this morning at the NLA, where it also emerged that this new piece of infrastructure has already achieved 100,000 rides.

Transport for London head of urban design Robin Buckle said the scheme needed the support and drive of people in – appropriately enough – high places. ‘Boris was the real figurehead for this project’, said Buckle. ‘He was the champion, and without him I don’t think we could have achieved it.’

The scheme, which cost over £45m, pulled in £36 million from Emirates for its 10-year sponsorship. It was needed, said Buckle, to help with a shortage of river crossings in an area with major development schemes happening at places such as Canary Wharf and Greenwich Peninsula.

Buckle said it had been important to preserve the scheme’s ‘world class design’ as it passed from Wilkinson Eyre to Aedas, which took it on in the design and build phase. But constraints on the site including tunnels, proposed developments and flight paths meant it had been like ‘threading the eye of a needle’.

Wilkinson Eyre Architects’ senior architect Alex Kyriakides said the project was effectively over five sites as opposed to the normal one, with the three towers and stations at either riverbank on Greenwich Peninsular and the Royal Docks. The twisting towers had been ‘stripped back’, developed as a ‘sculptural form’ which would attain a ‘dominant’, recognizable character and have a ‘sense of lightness’ to them, said Kyriakides.

Finally, Mace Group project director Matt Randall showed the complexity of the building process, which required the use of a 11,350 tonne crane which took 70 articulated lorries to bring it to site, and three other cranes to build. ‘There’s no spare ounce of steel up there’ he said. Randall said he was proud to have delivered the cable car in a year, with 450,000 man-hours where no one had suffered an injury. He added that in terms of safety for users, the chances of a gondola failing had been calculated as 1 in 6170 years, with thorough evacuation tests having been carried out. ‘I’ve been personally evacuated from a gondola’, he said. ‘It’s not too bad. Pretty bad, but not too bad.’

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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