Weather protection

'Rained off' is a phrase that has been banished from descriptions of the Wimbledon tennis tournament thanks to the installation of a retractable roof. Fred Matyiku of Victaulic looks at the challenges of the project

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A view of the retractable roof being installed above Wimbledon's Centre Court.
A view of the retractable roof being installed above Wimbledon's Centre Court.
HVAC pipework had to change direction in tight spaces.
HVAC pipework had to change direction in tight spaces.
Wimbledon's famous tennis venue has been getting a series of improvements.
Wimbledon's famous tennis venue has been getting a series of improvements.

‘Rained off’ is a phrase that has been banished from descriptions of the Wimbledon tennis tournament thanks to the installation of a retractable roof. Fred Matyiku of Victaulic looks at the challenges of the project

Since the Wimbledon tennis tournament began more than 130 years ago, the game has always been dependent on the volatility of the English weather. However, from 2009 onwards, spectators and TV viewers alike will be able to wave goodbye to one of the Grand Slam’s most unwanted traditions – the rain – and say hello to centre court’s new translucent retractable roof.

The transformation of centre court for The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) has been project managed by Mike Bridges, project director for Galliford Try, a construction services provider. With work onsite beginning back in July 2006, there have been various phases to the refurbishment of the original 1920’s centre court. At the end of The Championships 2008, work began again in earnest to ensure that the translucent retractable roof and extra 1,200 seats are ready for June 2009.

In 2007, Galliford Try awarded the M&E contract to Skanska, to install and commission the mechanical and electrical services on the centre court refurbishment. As well as meeting the challenge of routing the new 350mm (14”) large diameter chilled water piping, 100mm (4”) heating piping in between the kilometres of steel roof struts that will support the new retractable roof system, Skanska had to find a way of installing the pipework while keeping onsite hotworks to a bare minimum. In addition, due to the transference of weight of the 10 prismatic steel trusses as they open and close, expansion, deflection and rotation within the tight, curving roof space also had to be accommodated in the design of the piping system. 

To meet the piping design challenges of centre court, as well as the limited installation space and safety restrictions, Skanska’s team, looked at alternatives to welding such as mechanical piping systems. Due to the large diameter of the chilled piping, Skanska needed to choose a grooved-end coupling provider that offered movement joints in their range that could fit into the tight curvature of the roof space. Following visits by Skanska’s senior mechanical engineers and AELTC consultants (ME Engineers) to Victaulic installations and the testing of Victaulic products at Skanska’s fabrication facility, it was decided that the Victaulic mechanical piping system was best suited to meet centre court’s challenges. 

Dennis Roof, regional sales manager at Victaulic, explains: “Wimbledon centre court is a unique job in terms of the parameters we were asked to cater for. It is normal to have to accommodate expansion, pipework deflection or rotation, within a tight, curving roof space but not usually all three on the same pipe installation.” 

Working alongside ME & Skanska, the Victaulic Construction Piping Services (CPS) department put together detailed piping drawings to meet the demands of the brief. Victaulic then calculated expansion, deflection and rotation parameters and then the products needed, as well as developed a preliminary drawing of how the system would be routed. Skanska’s design department then took these drawings and used their own system to model the 3D layout of the pipe weaving in and out of the trusses.

Philip Janssens, CPS manager at Victaulic, adds: “Using the Victaulic CPS teams’ experience and our bespoke software design system, we were able to calculate in advance of construction how much expansion, rotation and deflection needed to be accommodated over exact distances, and then place the movement joints, couplings and fittings accordingly.”

A key element of the design of the retractable roof is to allow natural light to reach the grass, while an airflow system removes condensation from within the bowl to maintain the grass at optimal condition when the roof is closed.

To drive the chilled water around the system during The Championships fortnight, nine temporary chiller units will be brought onsite and housed in a chiller farm across the road. Run through pre-insulated 350mm (14”) pipe joined with Victaulic Advanced Grooved System (AGS) couplings, the system will be primed and ready for action at the flick of a switch whenever the roof is closed.

The Victaulic Advanced Groove System features a complete range of medium diameter rigid and flexible couplings, fittings, valves and accessories that are ideal for HVAC and industrial piping applications. Available in diameters ranging from 350mm – 600mm the couplings feature a two-piece housing design, requiring only two fixing nuts and bolts and a new wedge-shaped groove that delivers pressure ratings up to 24 bar/ 2400 kPa (350 psi).

Victaulic Style 77 flexible couplings and mover joints have been used throughout the heating pipework on centre court and the service tunnels. A mix of 350mm (14”) Victaulic AGS medium diameter couplings and Style 150 and 155 mover joints have been used throughout the chilled water system in the roof space, and Victaulic Style 606 copper couplings and fittings have been used on centre court’s potable piping system. To ensure that the piping system works to its optimum capacity, Dennis Roof and his team at Victaulic have made regular visits to check on the installation of the products. They have assessed the HVAC system as a whole and recalculated the required positions for all the final fixing points for the pipe hangers on the completed installation.

Mike Bridges from Galliford Try concludes: “We’ve been working with the AELTC for over 30 years on refurbishments at Wimbledon, however Centre Court is our biggest project to date.  It is our aim that all the pipework will be installed, tested and lagged before the winter, and we are well on our way to achieving this target thanks to partnerships such as the one with Victaulic”.
 

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