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Justifying the reuse of the under-reamed piled foundations that support the 12 storey wing building of the iconic Shell Centre on London’s South Bank required a thorough intrusive site investigation which set out the benchmark for a practical cost efficient approach to the investigation of existing foundations.

The investigation was carried out from the lowest basement through a heavily reinforced raft which is less than 1m above the Bakerloo Line running tunnels and in places over 3m thick.  Close liaison with LUL was vital in achieving the investigation objectives whilst ensuring the safe operation of the railway.  Concept reviewed the archive drawings and determined the approximate location of the piles in relation to salient features in the basement prior to utilising intrusive coring.

The novel drilling and coring techniques developed by Concept to prove the position and diameter of the pile shafts as well as the size of the under-ream and the condition of the pile concrete minimised the cost of the investigation works whilst not compromising the quality of the information obtained.




Client: Braeburn Estates

Engineer: Arup / WSP

Structural Investigation value: £0.5 million


Re-use of existing piled foundations at South Bank Place, London SE1 7NQ

The re-use of the existing udnerream piles supporting the 12 storey , 2 basement Shell Building with its iconic 27 storey tower  required a robust analysis reinforced by a thorough investigation of the existing piles to determine their diameter and condition of the shaft and underream bells.

Arup used a risk based approach backed up by complex finite element analysis to determine the suitability of the piles for re-use. They carried out a statistical assessment to determine the number of existing piles required to be investigated to achieve a sufficient level of confidence.  They then specified a thorough investigation involving amongst others a televiewer survey down the middle of the full length of the shaft of two piles which Concept cored to 18 m depth in order to facilitate.  Of particular importance were the geometry and durability characteristics of the tension piles adjacent to the Bakerloo line that was running under the slab. 

The investigation was carried out from the lower basement level through a heavily reinforced ground bearing slab which was over 3m thick in places.  Concept reviewed the drawings and spatially determined the approximate location of the piles in relation to the basement’s features prior to utilising intrusive coring.  They then carried a series of inclined cores through the slab, soil and pile shaft to determine its diameter.  The udnerreams of the piles were investigated using a combination of conventional soil drilling techniques (cable percussion) and concrete coring using specially developed equipment.


Investigation Benefits to Overall Scheme

The investigation of the piles enabled the informed progression of the foundation design for the new development and increased the confidence level for their re-use, especially of those in tension adjacent to the Bakerloo line. 

Concept’s review and determination of the location of the piles as accurately as possible prior to carrying out intrusive surveys significantly reduced the costs of unnecessary coring.

Concept’s method of investigation proved the optimum amount of points at the circumference of the piles to enable the determination of the pile diameter with a sufficient level of accuracy whilst at the same time keeping the cost as low as possible. 

Based on the data obtained Arup carried a complex finite element analysis modelling the unload sequence to prove the behaviour and the pile raft interaction and impact on the Bakerloo Line.  The model will be used throughout the construction of the building to monitor the soil structure interaction and will be backed up by the monitoring  data of the instrumentation installed in the piles and boreholes.

Arup’s thorough and systematic approach backed up by Concept’s innovative investigation techniques to determining the pile geometry and characteristics resulted in a cost efficient investigation and analysis which will ultimately outweigh the costs of installing new piles and provide a sustainable foundation solution for the new development.


Reasons for the Investigation

When Braeburn Estates decided to redevelop the imposing Shell Building at London’s Southbank, the emphasis was to retain as much as possible of the existing structure without compromising the development. 

The robust construction evident throughout the building indicated that the foundations although over 50 years old could potentially be re-used for the new development. Their re-use would cut down costs and environmental impacts. 

It would also minimise the risk associated with the design and construction of new supports adjacent to the Bakerloo line which runs immediately under the basement of the building. 

Sinking new piles to the already heavily congested site would be a difficult and costly exercise.

The adoption of existing foundations will minimise waste removal.


Social, economic and environmental benefits

The re-use of the existing Shell building foundations for the Southbank Place Development will:

  • Reduce the impact of the development in the environment (pollution, dust, noise) by reducing extensive demolition and excavation works
  • Significantly reduce safety risks as deep level concrete foundations no longer need to be removed.
  • Reduce waste removal
  • Avoid potential disruption to the LUL assets running at shallow depth under the basement of the building
  • Reduce construction time and associated disruption to the area


Innovation and Future Application

Almost any new development in the heavily congested city hubs would need to involve the partial or full demolition of existing buildings.  As we are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of our actions and moving towards a more sustainable world there is an increasing demand to re-use as much as of the existing structure as possible. 

Existing structures, especially those at the limit of their design life, require their integrity to be assessed prior to re-use.  Their foundations are not as readily accessible as the rest of the structural elements.  In the case of large buildings they are buried deeply under pile caps and heavy ground slabs, rendering their assessment challenging, costly and requiring a high level of expertise. 

Concept developed innovative techniques and equipment to carry out deep foundation investigations in a cost efficient way.  Arup established a robust risk based approach backed up by soil-structure interaction analyses and real time monitoring during construction to determine the level of confidence required to incorporate existing foundations in the new development.

The investigation of the piles of the Shell Building sets out the benchmark for a risk based practical approach to the investigation of existing foundations which will bring considerable savings and environmental and social benefits to every project.  It clearly demonstrates that it is possible and safe to re-use existing foundations if assessed and investigated in an appropriate manner and hopefully will entice developers and structural engineers to adopt it in their future projects. 



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