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Building The Shard, London Bridge

John Parker, Technical Director WSP Cantor Seinuk, describes the challenges of
working on the foundations of the tallest building in Europe

The Shard at London Bridge will not only be the tallest building in such like. It is surrounded by a concrete secant piled wall; the floor
Europe, it will also be one of the most distinctive. Its 310m high, slabs are also constructed in reinforced concrete.
tapering shape and glass cladding will provide a unique addition to The lowest slab is 13.34m below ground level and acts as a raft
London’s skyline when it is completed in 2012 (Fig 1). to transfer building loads into the bearing piles. Under the main
Although the shape of the building is unusual, it is ideal for its core it is 3m thick; elsewhere it is generally reduced to 1.5m. A
mixed use occupancy. Deep floor plates at the lower levels are drainage layer beneath the raft reduces uplift pore pressures.
provided for office tenants, medium sized floor plates at mid-height London Bridge station is constructed on Victorian brick arches
suit the restaurants and hotel, while the smallest floors at the top which, in some cases, are very close to the secant wall. In order to
of the building allow natural light to penetrate through the safeguard these assets a complex monitoring system has been
residential apartments. At the highest point (the ‘spire’) is a viewing specified by WSP Geotechnics. This uses a combination of
gallery, from which the public will be able to enjoy spectacular automatic and manual monitoring to report movements in Network
views across the capital. Rail structures and tracks, and in other surrounding buildings. An
Piling for the building began in March 2009 following the Emergency Preparedness Plan details the actions to be taken in
demolition of the 26-storey Southwark Towers. Engineer WSP the event that movements are greater than predicted by WSP’s
Cantor Seinuk and architect Renzo Piano Building Workshop have ground movement assessment (GMA).
designed a building for client Sellar Property Group that completely The Jubilee Line passes the site near the northern edge.
fills the site adjacent to Network Rail’s station. Main contractor
Mace and its subcontractors have a complex logistical task to
build the tower, while avoiding disruption to the busy station. A 1 The Shard as it will appear on the London skyline
(Photo: Sellar Properties)
view of the site in June 2009 is shown in Fig 2. 2 The site in June 2006, with three piling rigs working
(Photo: Nicola Evans, WSP Cantor Seinuk)
Basement 2a The site from above taken from New London Bridge
House to the north of the Shard
The Shard has a three storey basement occupied by plant rooms, 3 Opposite: Plunge column alignment rig
a mechanical car stacker, ‘back of house’ rooms for the hotel and (Photo: Nicola Evans, WSP Cantor Seinuk )

14 The Structural Engineer 87 (18) 15 September 2009

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New piles have been positioned to avoid the London Underground Stratum Approx depth to base of stratum below ground level
exclusion zone, and the GMA shows that effects on the tunnel are
minimal. Other nearby London Underground assets include two Made ground / alluvium 4.5m
long-disused shafts on the line of the western secant wall. One, a River terrace gravels 9m
stair shaft, had been filled with concrete in the 1950s, with some of
the stair steelwork left in place. Because it would not be possible London Clay 31m (west) / 35m (east)
to cut through the steel with the piling rig, the entire shaft was
Woolwich and Reading beds 45m (west) / 51m (east)
removed from within a temporary works coffer dam. The other, a
lift shaft, was filled with foam concrete before boring the secant Thanet sands 59m (west) / 63m (east)
piles. A disused tunnel, which previously provided access to the
shafts from the rest of London Bridge Underground station, was Chalk Not proven
also filled with foam concrete to avoid the risk of damage during Table 1: Sequence of strata
piling and basement excavation.

Bearing piles and secant wall

The sequence of strata at the site is summarised in Table 1. The
water table is at the top of the gravel layer, at about 4.5m below
ground level. The gravels are also extremely permeable and so
excavations into this layer must be made watertight so as to avoid
large flows of water. Although the top of the London Clay layer is
relatively level, its thickness changes abruptly due to a pre-glacial
fault running north-south. The lower strata are therefore
encountered at higher levels on the western side of the site than
on the east.
A greater complication than the geology, however, is provided by
the existing piles constructed in the 1970s to support Southwark
Towers. This building had no basement – only the lift pits and Price
Waterhouse Coopers’ swimming pool extended below ground
level – and so the engineers were able to use relatively shallow
under-reamed piles. This kept the pile toe levels in the London
Clay and avoided piling into the water-bearing strata beneath. The
under-reams were in some cases so close as to almost touch
each other, and so the new bearing piles are cored through the
unreinforced concrete of the under-reams using a core barrel with
cutting teeth mounted on the piling rig.
A record drawing of the Southwark Towers piling was used to
locate the new piles between the old piles. The drawing was a plunge columns to support the top-down construction. These
scanned image of a photocopy of a microfilm record of a hand- were installed by Stent to tight position and verticality tolerances
drawn original, and so it was necessary to scale, stretch and rotate using a hydraulically-controlled rig (Fig 3).
it in order to correct the various distortions that had occurred over The secant piles carry substantial loads from the perimeter
the years. Because coring through reinforced concrete was known columns as well as lateral loads from earth and water pressures.
to be a lengthy, difficult and noisy process, damaging to piling rigs, As for the bearing piles, the positions of the secant piles were
the new piles were positioned to avoid the shaft of the existing adjusted to avoid existing pile shafts. In some instances this has
piles. led to loads being transferred around obstructions by the capping
The bearing piles are generally 1800mm in diameter and carry beam. The secant piles are 900mm diameter and are installed at
up to 24MN. The piles with the heaviest loads extend to 53m 750mm maximum centres, and to a vertical tolerance of 1:200,
below ground level and are founded in the Thanet sands. Piles ensuring full interlock down to basement slab level. A drained
carrying lower loads are founded in the London Clay and are ‘dry’, cavity provides a further barrier to water ingress.
but the majority are constructed under bentonite because of the A soil-structure interaction model has been used to calculate
water-bearing strata at lower levels. Some piles contain steel bending moments, shear forces and reinforcement requirements in
the raft, and to show how much vertical load can be carried as
bearing pressure on the London Clay. This avoids over-specifying
pile loads and limits the amount of heave movement due to the
removal of soil within the basement. The raft slab is reinforced with
up to four layers of 40mm bars in each direction, but deepening
the slab would have led to more excavation and greater forces in
the secant piles.

Top-down construction
The Shard basement is being built ‘top down’. This allows
substructure and superstructure construction to proceed
simultaneously, giving considerable programme benefits. In
addition, by installing slabs as excavation proceeds, the deflection
of the secant wall, and the risk of movement in the surrounding
structures, are both minimised. The sequence is complex but can
be summarised as follows:
– Install secant piles, bearing piles and plunge columns, working
from ground level (Fig 4).
– Construct level 00 (ground floor) slab, leaving an opening
around the core and moling holes for removal of spoil.
– Excavate to B2 level (the slab at B1 does not cover the whole
basement; it is also safer to excavate double storey heights

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4 5

6 7

4 Sequence: piles and plunge columns core, and avoid eccentricity between the core centroid and the
installed from ground level centroid of the group of plunge columns. This was further
5 Sequence: level 00 cast; core started from B2 complicated by the need to position plunge columns away from
6 Sequence: B2 cast; plunge columns propped
from B3; steelwork started core openings, and to ensure that the new piles did not clash with
7 Sequence: completed building (Photos: John existing pile shafts. After some iteration a suitable arrangement
Parker, WSP Cantor Seinuk was devised. The surprisingly high accuracy of the CAD overlay of
the existing pile drawing led to only minor changes after the
Southwark Towers pilecaps were demolished; nevertheless the pile
when working top down). group was re-analysed in order to ensure that pile loads and
– Build a section of the core at B2 and commence the slipform. settlements would be acceptable.
The core is supported on plunge columns, using large numbers
of shear studs (Fig 5) Conclusion
– Cast the B2 slab, again leaving an opening around the core. The foundations for the Shard at London Bridge present a
– When the slipform has passed ground level, fill in the central challenge for designers and contractors because of the size and
opening and tie the core to the level 00 slab. weight of the building, the presence of existing under-reamed
– Meanwhile, excavate to B3 level. The depth of the raft slab and piles, and the proximity of Network Rail and other infrastructure.
the B3-B2 storey height effectively provide a double height Careful design and close teamwork by structural and geotechnical
space. engineers, architects, main contractor and piling subcontractor has
– When the slipform has passed level 08, commence steel led to a practical and efficient result.
– Cast the B3 slab; brace the core plunge columns laterally from Client: Sellar Property Group Ltd
the slab (Fig 6). Structural and geotechnical engineer: WSP Cantor Seinuk
Architect: Renzo Piano Building Workshop
– Complete the core walls from B3 to B2, fill in the B2 slab Associate architect: Adamson Associates
opening and remove the plunge column bracing. At this stage Building services engineer: Arup
Cost consultant: Davis Langdon
the slipform will be at about level 30, with the steelwork a few Project manager: Turner and Townsend
floors beneath. Main contractor: Mace
Piling subcontractor: Stent Foundations
– A section through the lower part of the completed building is Concrete subcontractor: Byrne Brothers
shown in Fig 7. Steel subcontractor: Severfield Reeve
It is believed that plunge columns have not previously been used
to support the core of a major building. The main challenge was in
positioning them so as to provide a balanced support beneath the

16 The Structural Engineer 87 (18) 15 September 2009