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Analysing the Engineering Solutions to Creating a Solid Foundation

and Overcoming Natural Movements in Marina Bay Sands Structure

Regina Madeleine Tandu

CID: 01318581

Group 5 - Civil Engineering Structures

Date of Submission: 11th December 2017


Executive Summary

Marina Bay Sands (MBS) is a structure unique to Singapore, functioning as one of most
prominent structure that sits in the country’s skyline. The ambitious project faced many
engineering challenges, and this report aims to focus on how the foundation was carried
out, and how to maintain its stability despite being subjected to external and internal
movements.

MBS sits on a reclaimed land with plenty of marine clay soil underneath. The slurry nature
of the soil in wet ground led to the installation of the one of the deepest and largest
retaining walls Singapore has ever attempted. They had to be waterproof too, as the
foundation of one of the MBS’s structure – the crystal pavilion -- is underwater.

Due to the architect’s ambitious design, the engineers also had to think about preventing
the structure from falling over despite it leaning at an angle. A permanent network of
trusses and suspension cables had to then be installed to defy gravity. Due to the sheer
size and complexity of the building, the engineers employed technology derived from
bridge construction to solve many issues, such as stainless-steel plates to stabilize the
building in strong winds. A tuned mass damper was also placed at the tip of the cantilever,
to prevent resonance from rhythmic human movement like dancing crowds.

After further discussion, some possible alternatives have been explored, such as
introducing impurities to marine clay soil around the foundation to increase soil strength.
Using a tuned liquid damper is also recommended since it is more economical and
multifunctional.

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Table of Content
1. Introduction.........................................................................................................................3

2. Overview on Marina Bay Sands structure .....................................................................3

3. Foundation ..........................................................................................................................4

3.1 The nature of marine clay .......................................................................................4

3.2 Constructing the Marina Bay Sands’ hotel ...........................................................4

3.3 Building the crystal pavilion ....................................................................................5

4. Overcoming of natural movements ................................................................................6

4.1 How to prevent Marina Bay Sands from buckling due to its shape .................7

4.2 Wind induced vibration ............................................................................................8

4.3 Rhythmic human activity ...................................................................................... 10

5. Discussion ......................................................................................................................... 11

5.1 Alternative approach to foundation .................................................................... 11

5.2 Alternative approach to overcoming natural movements ............................... 12

6. Conclusion ........................................................................................................................ 13

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1. Introduction
In this report, we will focus on examining the foundations of two structures from Marina
Bay Sands – the hotel towers and crystal pavilion. They are built on top of marine clay
soil and underwater, hence we will first discuss the nature of marine clay soil. We will then
explore how engineers overcome the natural movement of the building induced by the
structural design. The degree at which the towers are slanted causes the structure to
experience massive moments downwards due to gravitational force. Since MBS is
located near the sea, it is subjected to a strong sea breeze hence prone to wind vibration.
The SkyPark on top of the three towers are also subjugated to rhythmic human activity
as it has an open space for people to dance and have social events. The report aims to
consider the potential disadvantages in the solutions and to come up with alternatives to
address these problems.

2. Overview on Marina Bay Sands structure

At a glance, MBS looks like a giant ship perched on three towers, moored in the sky.
Designed by Moshe Safdie, the facilities aim to integrate a hotel with 2,560 rooms, a
casino, shopping centre, a SkyPark with an infinity pool, and space for 3,900 people to
mingle among hundreds of trees (Hart, 2011).

MBS is best known for its cantilevered SkyPark which sits on top of the sloping hotel
towers. Covering an area of 12,400 m2 and weighing 6.3 million kg, the SkyPark includes
a restaurant, an observation deck, garden, nightclubs, and a swimming pool (Chua,
2011). A crystal pavilion that appears to float on the water, is also another engineering
marvel worth discussing.

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Figure 2.1 Marina Bay Sands hotel towers from below (Arup, 2012)
Figure 2.2 Crystal pavilion emerging from the water body (Arup, 2012)

3. Foundation

3.1 The Nature of Marine Clay

In a land-scarce country like Singapore, land reclamation is inevitable to accommodate


the growing population. Unfortunately, marine clay is widely present in countries across
the Southeast Asian region (Arulrajah, 2005), and it has a unique property of expanding
in volume in wet condition and shrinking in volume when the soil is dry. Having such
extremely compressible soil would require some sort of solution to allow any building to
remain erect.

Upper marine clay shear strength 10-30 kPa

Lower marine clay shear strength 30-60 kPa

Sensitivity 3 – 8 (Highly sensitive)

Table 3.1 A study on Singapore marine clay (Bo et al, 2015)

3.2 Constructing the Marina Bay Sands’ hotel

Mike Barton (Megastructure, 2010) explained how the engineers had successfully built
MBS on top of 560,000 m2 reclaimed land. To prevent bay water from interfering with the
construction, the engineers had to fortify the site by building watertight enclosures made
of concrete. Hence, 5 circles of steel-reinforced concrete piles, also known as diaphragm
walls, were pounded 50 metres into the ground (Figure 3.1). According to Arup (2012),

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the 120m diameter cofferdams are some of the largest ever developed by Arup and
Singapore. The further the piles are driven into the ground, the greater the shaft friction
(or vertical friction) that keeps the structure erect.

Figure 3.1 Circular, semi-circular, and peanut shape diaphragm walls (Arup, 2012)

Figure 3.2 Shear walls (Arup, 2012)

Another interesting feature of the foundations as explained by Arup (2012), would be the
construction of 50m shear walls, comprising of both long and short panels. These walls
are essential to transmit the huge shear forces into the very stiff-to-hard Old Alluvium
layer underneath the marine clay soil (Figure 3.2). Such immense foundation structures
allow the workers to build the stable structure of the MBS very quickly. Continuous control
of ground movement was also essential to ensure the site remains safe.

3.3 Building the crystal pavilion

The pavilion is the only structure in MBS which is built in the water. The challenge of
building the pavilion lies on the geology comprising of a 15-25 mm thick layer of soft-to-
firm marine clay soil on top of Old Alluvium formation (Arup, 2012). To keep the water out
during construction, the engineers had to create a waterproof streel structure, also known
as a cofferdam (Figure 3.3), before using diesel pumps to remove the water. According
to Terada (2013), cofferdams are made up of a network of steel tubular piles, connected

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with an interlocking key (Figure 3.4). He argues that cofferdams are excellent foundations
normally used in underwater constructions like bridges support.

Figure 3.3 Cofferdam (Terada, 2013) Figure 3.4 Interlocking key (Terada,2013)

The interlocking key system refers to smaller steel tubes filled with mortar. They are more
flexible compared with the main tubular pile elements, hence when external force acts
onto the foundation, shear deformation may occur, meaning that the section may not
remain in plane (Terada, 2013).

Once the circular cofferdam was installed, any water inside the cofferdam was pumped
out to allow engineers to install the foundation (Arup, 2012). The enormous hydrostatic
pressure exerted onto the wall makes the work particularly dangerous and challenging,
since any leakage may potentially lead to the collapse of the wall.

Arup (2012) outlined the general course of construction as followed: after dewatering of
the circular cofferdam, a linear cofferdam is installed, and excavation within the circular
cofferdam was carried out, followed by dewatering and removal of soil within the linear
cofferdam. Only then, could the construction of the basement commence. When the
foundation had been completed, the temporary structures were then removed.

4. Overcoming of natural movements


One of the inevitable problems of building a structure, particularly the MBS with it unusual
design, is compensating issues caused by the presence of the building itself, such as
moment about the edge of the tilting towers, lateral wind forces, and human rhythmic
movements.

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4.1. How to prevent Marina Bay Sands from buckling due to its unusual shape

Marina Bay Sands has distinctive feature of 3 sloping towers which was inspired from a
falling stack of dominos (Figure 4.1). This proved to be a challenging problem for the
engineers, because a sloping leg creates a huge external force to the structure (Build it
Bigger, 2010). Stacking each floor slightly off-centre above the level below would cause
the centre of gravity of the sloping leg to act outside of the base area, inducing a moment
about the edge of its base.

Figure 4.1. Side-way view of one tower leaning towards the other in a 5º angle
(Arup, 2012)
Figure 4.2. Temporary trusses to support the structure (Megastructure, 2010)

To support the structure during construction, large temporary struts were put in place in
between the structures (Figure 4.2). Tension cables were also installed within the walls
of the leaning leg to provide extra force to hold the structure in place, like those in
suspension bridges (Megastructure, 2010). These cables allow external forces to be
transferred to the wall elements.

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Figure 4.3 How the towers would buckle without the trusses (Arup, 2012)

After the towers had reached its 23 level, a giant linked truss was placed to bind the
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structures before dismantling the temporary steel structures. Arup (2012) believes that
the truss is a vital component of the support as without it the two towers would act
independently and cause significant differential displacement across the corridor at upper
levels. They argued that in the long run, it may lead to cracking and floors to move outside
their designated level (Figure 4.3).

4.2 Wind induced vibration

After subjecting the scaled down model of MBS to strong wind from the wind simulating
tunnel, Safdie (2011) found out that the 3 towers may deform up to 250 mm during the
fiercest storm. Using bridge engineering technology, he then developed a network of
aluminium and stainless-steel plates to act as sliding components in the movement joints,
which are gaps between the concrete structures (Figure 4.4). He stated that this
technique is rarely used in large buildings and more often seen in bridge.

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Figure 4.4 Aluminium and stainless-steel plates are free to move in movement joints.
(Megastructure, 2010)

Although the solution can sustain the movements of the 3 towers, Safdie (Megastructure,
2010) pointed out that it provides additional challenge to the continuous 150-meter long
infinity edge pool. Spanning across the 3 towers, the base of the pool may crack, water
seeping through those cracks may be fatal to the lives and properties below it.

A simple solution to this problem would be to divide the long structure into three 50-meter
units, which would then be linked to each other through underwater joint system (Safdie,
2011). He explained that the steel top hats would be placed in between each structure so
that it creates a seamless but flexible infinity pool. In addition to that, adjustable steel
jacks are installed such that the swimming pool stays horizontal all the time (Figure 4.5).

Figure 4.5 The pool’s adjustable steel jacks (Hart, 2011)

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4.3 Rhythmic human activity

Another key problem facing the engineers, as explained by Hart (2011), was the unique
design imposed by Safdie – a 66.5-metre cantilever on the SkyPark, which requires a
novel engineering solution. The steel cantilever which sticks out 213-ft from the main
tower, weighs around 7000 tonnes, one of the heaviest and highest cantilever ever
constructed (Build it Bigger, 2010). Plenty of analysis has been done into the design to
guarantee that human movement on the structure is fully explored.

The cantilever has many vertical modes with low natural frequency which are vulnerable
to resonance effect (Hart, 2011). When synchronized crowd activities, such as dancing,
occurred on top of the cantilever, the frequency from the dance steps may drive the
cantilever to oscillate. Since the cantilever has low natural frequency, the driving
frequency from the rhythmic human activity can quickly match that of natural frequency,
causing resonance to occur. Resonance can be damaging to the structure because the
amplitude of the oscillation will be magnified, which causes the structure to eventually
oscillate out of control and lead to failure.

Hart (2011) explained several adjustments relevant to the dynamic performance of the
building were made on the structural design during the construction phases. The first
solution is reducing the size of the edges of the box girders that mainly support the
SkyPark. Box girders are large compound structures that form enclosed tubes with
multiple walls, rather than an I or H-beam (Figure 4.6). Trimming the edges can
subsequently increase the natural frequency, hence scaling down its susceptibility to
excitation from human movements.

Figure 4.6 Box Girders (University of Ljubljana, n.d.)


Figure 4.7 The Belly (Hart,2011)

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The second solution Hart (2011) introduced is a 4.5-metric ton (5-ton) tuned mass
damper. It is placed at the end of the cantilever, inside the belly (Figure 4.7), to give extra
damping effect to the structure. The tuned mass damper functions as an energy
converter, from mechanical kinetic energy to other forms of energy like heat. In damping,
the force inside the spring would work against the movement of the building, thus reducing
the amplitude of vibration. This would prevent the system from vibrating in high frequency.

5. Discussion

5.1 Alternative approach to foundation

Various papers and sources have reviewed how the bored piling and creation of
diaphragm walls overcome the challenges of building MBS on top of marine clay soil, as
the walls create a dry enclosure for subsequent construction. However, little discussion
has been done to improving the soil strength. Perhaps improving the stability of marine
clay soil around the foundation is also worth discussing.

Table 5.1 Mechanical properties of OPC stabilized clay at different curing age
(Cong et al, 2014)
According to Ahmad (2012), it is common to use Ordinary Portland Cement (OPC) as a
stabilizer or a binding agent. Introducing OPC as impurities into marine clay can give the
soil additional strength, although it may not be the most environmental friendly materials

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to use. Table 5.1 shows how compressive strength of soil increases when more OPC is
introduced.

Unfortunately, production of OPC contributes high CO2 emission, which is responsible


for the Earth’s climate change (Rubenstein, 2012). Hence, another possible alternative
approach to dealing with marine clay is to mix the soft mixture with impurities from
selected waste materials (Figure 5.1.) such as bottom ash (BA) or fly ash (FA). As
explained by Ahmad (2012), these by-product from power stations have the pozzolanic
properties which allows it to replace cement in deep soil mixing (DSM). Since they are
usually disposed, FA and BA can be an economical substitute of OPC. The compressive
strength of FA-soil mixture has been studied, and research (Cong et al, 2014) shows that
the features of cement or its substitute affects the level of bonding in micro-fabric of soft
clay. Formation of gel will bind the soil and particles together to fill up any void.

5.2 Alternative approach to overcoming natural movements

Instead of using a tuned mass damper (TMD), a tuned liquid damper (TLD) can be
installed. As opposed to TMD where mass is attached to the building through a spring
and a device called dashpot, in TLD, the mass is replaced by liquid. The oscillation motion
of the building is then counteracted by the motion of the liquid in the column.

Various research paper has acknowledged the effectiveness of TLD in controlling


structures subjected to small amplitude and narrow-banded motions (Banerji, 2004). This
is very suitable for MBS as the vertical modes in the cantilever have small natural
frequency. Moreover, Banerji also explains how a TLD is relatively easier to maintain and
cheaper to install, since it uses water as a shock absorber. This is relatively much simpler
as compared to a TMD which requires frictionless rubber bearings, special floor for
installation, activation mechanism, springs, and other mechanical elements which drive
up the cost of the vibration absorber. The container for the water in a TLD can also be
used to supply water for any activities or fire-fighting systems on the top-most levels in
the towers – unlike in a TMD in which the dead weight of the mass has no further
functional use.

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Figure 5.1 Principle of TMD (Lin et al, 2015)

Figure 5.2. Principle of TLD (Naeimi, 2014)

6. Conclusion

Various milestones have been achieved throughout the construction of MBS. From the
geotechnical engineering perspective, the use of cofferdams and shear walls allow safe
and easy construction in deep marine clays. Trusses are placed and tension cables within
the walls are installed to keep the towers from buckling. The use of bridge technology to
resist wind movement and good understanding of the motion caused by people’s
movement at the SkyPark provide optimal comfort for visitors. We also have concluded
that changing the behaviour of the marine clay soil with impurities may also help to provide
the strength needed to support the structure. OPC can be an option, but using FA or BA
can be more environmentally friendly. Using a TLD is also another viable alternative
(instead of a TMD) since it is economically viable and easier to install. The TLD also can
function as a water reservoir for the top level of the building.

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