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Alan Grant

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Alan Barnett Grant (11 December 1922 - 25 August 2010) was a leading British consulting engineer in the post World War II period, who pioneered a radical new design for submerged floating tunnels as an alternative to long suspension bridge spans, especially in seismic zones.[1]

Early years[edit | edit source]

Grant was born in Bromley, Kent of Scottish parents originally from Aberdeen. He attended Portsmouth Grammar School and with the outbreak of war in 1939 continued his studies, obtaining a degree in civil and mechanical engineering at the Portsmouth Municipal College. He enlisted in October 1943 and was assigned to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, rising to the rank of captain on service with the British 8th Army in Italy.

Post-war consultancy[edit | edit source]

Following a number of positions in the public and private sectors, Grant founded his own consulting engineering firm, Alan Grant & Partners, in 1962, carrying out projects throughout the world, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, as well as in the United States. The firm had offices in London, Edinburgh, Athens, Abu Dhabi, Tunis and Tehran. Between 1965-1971 it was the main engineering consultant in Abu Dhabi, responsible for the development and implementation of an extensive infrastructure plan for the country. From 1967 to 1974 the firm acted as consultant to the National Iranian Oil Company for their proposed earthquake-proof headquarters building. Alan Grant & Partners was one of the first engineering firms in Britain to use computers in the 1960s, installing an ICL 1900 which was used for the static and dynamic analysis of structures, and extensively so when designing buildings in earthquake areas. Among other activities, Grant held the post of Chairman of the Westminster Chamber of Commerce between 1976-78, leading a trade mission to Brazil and Venezuela in 1978. He became a Fellow of the Institution of Structural Engineers in 1956 and a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1959.

Submerged floating tunnel - Messina Straits[edit | edit source]

The concept of the underwater bridge was evolved by Alan Grant & Partners in the late 1960s and submitted to the Azienda Nazionale Autonoma delle Strade, which was the Department of the Italian Government responsible for main roads. A crossing to link Sicily and the Italian mainland had been an aspiration since Roman times but the obstacles were substantial: ferocious winds occur regularly where the Ionian Sea meets the Tyrrhenian and the area is one of significant seismic activity. Grant's submission, which was in response to an International Competition (Concorso Internazionale di Idee) sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Public Works, was in 1969 awarded one of the six equal first prizes given for proposals for the crossing of the Messina Straits separating Italy and Sicily, from among a total of 145 entries. [2] These included proposals from Italy, the United States, the UK, France and other European countries, and all except Alan Grant’s scheme involved variations of a conventional bridge crossing. Christened the “Archimedes Bridge”, because of its floating properties, the Submerged Floating Tunnel (SFT) was designed to be 5,000 meters long, 42.5 meters wide and 24 meters high made of concrete segments with compartments for two three-lane highways and two railways. The major difference between the underwater bridge and the conventional surface bridge is that internal live loads decrease the stresses on the ties instead of increasing them. The bridge was designed to withstand the combination of dead loads with imposed live loads, these being both internal, and external due to the flow of the water.

The SFT proposed by Grant in 1969 has been followed by similar structures developed in later years for other locations. The Department of Structural Engineering, University of Naples “Federico II”, mentioned Grant's design: "The solution of a tunnel cross-section with a hydrodynamic external shape is adopted already in the first SFT proposal developed by Alan Grant (Messina Strait, Italy, 1969): in this case the SFT cross-section is composed of three steel-concrete composite tubes connected together by a steel frame substructure and enclosed into a steel fairing featuring a hydrodynamic shape. A similar solution was also conceived for the SFT connection between Pramuka and Karya islands of the Pulau Seribu archipelago (Indonesia, 2008, Figure 6e) with a multi-cellular internal arrangement accommodating two road lanes and a footway." [3]

A technical article written for the Virginia Transportation Research Council in June 1988, also referred to Grant's SFT design. "In Europe there have been a number of notable bridges proposed but not built. A recent project that created considerable interest was the bridging of the two-mile link between Italy and Sicily at the Messina Strait. The most unique solution was proposed by the engineer Alan Grant. This bridge is entirely underwater and is held down rather than held up using adjustable anchor cables attached to the sea bottom (see Figure 31). Inside the streamlined tube there would be three smaller tubes: two for vehicles and one for trains. Appropriate concrete ballast would neutralize the buoyancy forces. Neither a true bridge, nor a tunnel, such a structure clearly is unique in that none like it has ever been constructed anywhere."[4]

The SFT designed by Alan Grant offered significant advantages over conventional bridge solutions: it avoided potential problems with shipping in a heavily transited stretch of water, impact from earthquakes or tsunamis was greatly reduced, and costs were far lower. Natural disasters are part of Sicilian history. In 1908, an earthquake measuring more than 7 on the Richter scale and ensuing tsunami killed more than 100,000 on the island and the neighbouring mainland areas of Calabria. It was the largest natural disaster so far recorded in Europe in terms of victims, and caused by the shifting of continental plates. Link label Alan Grant associated with Italian business entrepreneur Elio Matacena, president of Caronte & Tourist SpA,to form Ponte di Archimede SpA to promote the project. Matacena later proposed the SFT design for a project in China, creating the Sino-Italian Joint Laboratory on Archimede's Bridge) in 2004 to investigate its feasibility for the thousand island lake area to the southwest of Shanghai.

Political and financial obstacles prevented pursuit of the project that had been initiated with the international competition in 1969. In 1981, a public sector company - Stretto di Messina - was formed by the state industrial holding company IRA, together with the state railways, the national roads board and the regional authorities of Sicily and Calabria with a view to reviving the project. A single span suspension bridge initially seemed to be the favoured solution, but by 1987 a group formed y Saipen and Snamprogetti, Spea and Tecnomare proposed another submerged tunnel inspired by the Grant design. Once again a decision was put off, only to be revived in the 1980s under the government of Bettino Craxi with Matacena continuing to promote Alan Grant's project. During this time, Grant was obliged to defend his patent rights over the SFT design against what he considered to be attempts to copy it. The crossing was once again revived and cancelled in 2006 by the government of Romano Prodi, once again taken up by Silvio Berlusconi only to be shelved again in 2010 and finally discarded in 2013 by Prime Minister Mario Monti.

The original design concept for the underwater bridge was adapted by Alan Grant to meet other engineering applications. In 1978 he developed a wave energy device, the Sea Wave Energy Extraction Plant (SWEEP). In contrast to other wave energy designs that post-dated it, SWEEP relied on a floating device, anchored to the seabed, which more efficiently captured wave power than devices floating on the surface which are susceptible to fluctuations in the interaction between sea surface and the air.

References:[edit | edit source]

  • Designs for the future, The Times 15 November 1971
  • Yet another wonder of the world, The Times, Maureen Fant, 17 November 1978
  • Strait Talk? Italians Regard Project To Link the Mainland With Sicily Skeptically, Wall Street Journal, Roger Cohen 29 January 1986
  • "Span proposed from Italian mainland to Sicily". UPI. 15 June 1986.
  • Ponte di Messina violenta polemica us scelte e progretti, La Repubblica, 11 March 1987
  • British plan for bridge becomes an issue, The Times, Peter Nichols 23 April 1987
  • 'Mi hanno scippato il tunnel dello Stretto, Domenico del Corriere, 19 November 1987
  • Stretto di Messina : quattro societá Italiane accusate di 'plagio', La Repubblica, 12 June 1988
  • Un ingeniero británico denuncia un plagio científico en Italia, El País, 11 June 1988
  • "Italian MPs kill plan to bridge Sicily and mainland". The Guardian. 12 October 2006.

Further reading =[edit | edit source]

Notable unbuilt bridges, by Dr. William Zuk, Virginia Transportation Research Council, June 1988http://cedb.asce.org/CEDBsearch/record.jsp?dockey=0059997 A new challenge for strait crossings: the immersed inversed cablesupported bridge

F. M. Mazzolani, B. Faggiano, M. Esposto & G. Martire Department of Structural Engineering, University of Naples “Federico II”, Italy http://nordicsteel2009.se/pdf/177.pdf Cable Supported Immersed Inversed Bridge: A challenging proposal

Department of Structural Engineering, University of Naples, August 2010;https://ac.els-cdn.com/S1877705810005291/1-s2.0-S1877705810005291-main.pdf?_tid=6ae7ff14-e732-4a4c-891d-af5c13ab6643&acdnat=1525614485_90513d344d108e053d9d9b9aecda1c08

Terremoto, rischio sismico nello Stretto di Messina: Meteoweb 13 febbraio 2018http://www.meteoweb.eu/foto/terremoto-rischio-sismico-nello-stretto-di-messina-quelle-faglie-sono-tra-le-piu-pericolose-deuropa-le-parole-degli-esperti/id/737643/#1

L’attraversamento dello Stretto di Messina:50 anni di lavoro. Giuliio Ballio, Politecnico di Milano. February 2014https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273120828_L'attraversamento_dello_Stretto_di_Messina50_anni_di_lavoro

Il mitico Ponte sullo Stretto di Messina, Aurelio Angelini, p. 90https://iris.unipa.it/retrieve/handle/10447/53246/304661/IL

Messina earthquake and tsunami of 1908, Encyclopedia Britannicahttps://www.britannica.com/event/Messina-earthquake-and-tsunami-of-1908

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