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West Midlands engineer crowned Pitch 200 winner

A demolition demonstration using baked goods took first place at ICE’s international competition.

Pitch 200 winner Imogen Graves presents her demolition demo. Image credit: Visual Eye
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Pitch 200 winner Imogen Graves presents her demolition demo. Image credit: Visual Eye
  • Updated: 27 November, 2018
  • Author: Emma Beer
Using roly-poly cakes and rich tea biscuits to explain how demolition in construction works has won a West Midlands engineer the top award in the global final of Pitch 200.

Pitch 200 was a competition ICE launched as part of its bicentenary celebrations this year. It asked engineers to explain an engineering concept to the public in an engaging and creative way in only 200 seconds. Contestants were encouraged to use props and presentations.

Imogen Graves, assistant design manager at J Murphy & Sons Ltd, beat 12 other finalists from all over the world at the final, held at ICE’s London headquarters on Monday evening.


The winning pitch

Her presentation, “Demolition: what a load of rubbish!” explored the importance of thinking about the reuse and recycling of construction materials at the end of an asset’s life.

Using two models, made of roly-poly cakes and rich tea biscuits, Imogen clearly demonstrated the difference between a more traditional “smashing” method of demolition and having a demolition plan.

In smashing, materials become contaminated and are unable to be reused, while carrying out the process with a plan can, in some cases, allow for up to 90% of materials to be recycled.

Graves won £1,000 and will be an ICE Ambassador in 2019, using her communication skills to improve the understanding of the general public that civil engineers transform their lives.

“This pitch is one I use when engaging with school children, encouraging them to think about civil engineering as a future career,” she said.

“I look forward to continuing to communicate ideas and concepts about our industry as ICE Ambassador next year.”

She added: “It feels amazing to be recognised for something that I’m extremely proud of, on a topic that is really important. A lot of my job is communicating complex schemes to non-engineers, though usually in a less messy fashion!”

A 'cutting-edge approach'

The judges, Sir Peter Bazalgette, ITV Chair and great-great-grandson of engineer and past ICE President Sir Joseph Bazalgette, Stephen Metcalfe MP, HM Government Envoy for Year of Engineering, Dr Marty Jopson, inventor and reporter for the BBC’s The ONE Show and Ayo Sokale, ICE President’s Future Leader 2017/8, said that Graves came across as witty and engaging.

The judges, (L-R) Stephen Metcalfe MP, Dr Marty Jopson, Ayo Sokale and Sir Peter Bazalgette. Image credit: Visual Eye

“Imogen presented a cutting-edge approach to waste reduction in demolition, and if that sounds dry, her presentation was anything but. A really talented civil engineer,” said Sir Peter.

ICE Immediate Past President Professor Lord Robert Mair said: “Imogen gave a highly imaginative and hugely engaging presentation amid a tough field of talented and skilled competitors.”


Akshay Budhihal Ashokkumar from TU Delft in the Netherlands, representing Europe, was awarded second place in the competition.

He introduced the audience to the concept of “Plastic Roads”, whereby plastic waste is used to replace bitumen (6-8%) in the construction of roads.

Third place was awarded to Catriona Salvini from Heriot Watt University, representing the Scotland region.

Her Great ICE Bake-off style presentation used the analogy of baking Rocky Road to the creation of concrete, and discussed the possibility of using supplementary materials to improve sustainability.  

"I came up with the idea when I was at my parents' house baking with my mum and explaining my dissertation to her. I used baking analogies because they would be easily understood and for concrete, Rocky Road was the best fit," she said. 

The event was hosted by TV presenter Rob Bell and included contestants from across the UK, as well as the Netherlands, Hong Kong, India and Australia.

The other finalists who took part

Alex Russell, WSP, South West 

Alex Russell used layers of different breakfast cereals to explain pavement engineering. 

Using two large transparent containers, he layered with brittle cereals, such as cornflakes, in one and softer cereals, such as oats and granola, in the other.  

He described how every pavement is made up of different layers. First, the sub-grade or existing soil – poor pavement which is heavy with clay particles, or in breakfast terms – cornflakes.

The layer of capping should be dense, with different sized rocks and particles – in a good breakfast pavement, this could be granola, not cocoa rocks which are all the same size.

The sub-base is a granular material to provide strength – like a flapjack which different shapes that interlock to form a strong layer.

The final layer is bituminous layers (in a good pavement, Rocky Road) strong materials and in the poor example, there are voids and the pavement is brittle, meaning it will degrade faster than the stronger compacted pavement.

He finished his presentation using a drill, decorated with miniature wheels, to show the impact – with the brittle “concrete” flying across the room and causing damage – like a pothole.  

Benji Poulton, Mott MacDonald, Wales 

Benji Poulton pitched an alternative design for a bridge over the Menai straight in North Wales, which uses the giant Bendigeidfran from Welsh mythology to “hold up” the bridge as support.  

The Welsh government recently announced plans to construct a third crossing across the strait.

Benji said, considering the fact such a crossing may overwhelm the grade-listed Britannia Bridge, a cantilever bridge has been discussed as the best approach. But, as the area is an ANOB (area of natural outstanding beauty), it was important to enhance the natural landscape.

Benji’s approach steer designs away from the traditional, and instead incorporates Welsh mythology – the giant Bendigeidfran from the ancient Mabinogion tales. The design includes the giant “holding up” the bridge as support, in a move that would incorporate the myths and legends of the country and its landscape in a physical sense. 

The proposal gained public support via a petition, and the Welsh government has agreed to consider the design alongside the originals.  

India Hutchinson, Teeside University, North East 

India Hutchinson used her pitch to liken the wonders of nature with feats of civil engineering, using props including a cow’s leg bone to demonstrate how different structures need support. 

She outlined how engineers can take inspiration from nature in their design and construction, apply those principles that have been in play for millions of years in their everyday jobs, even helping with strengthening points of weakness.   

Pui Yau Peter Wan, MTR Corporation Ltd, Hong Kong 

Peter Wan used his pitch to explain how engineers can help solve problems by thinking outside the (rice) box.  

He talked about the first Chinese member of the ICE, a hundred years ago, Jeme Tien Yow.

 In 1892, Tien Yow he was tasked to build a railway bridge across the Luanhe River in the east of Beijing. He had a problem – the cost of concrete was too expensive.  His solution was to use bricks and sticky rice-lime mortar – creating a strong construction material.  

Peter outlined the important lesson that civil engineers today can learn from Tien Yow.

Civil engineering, he said, is about using natural resources to solve problems for the benefit of mankind. It’s not just about applying the latest technology but about effectively applying knowledge.

In ICE’s 200th year particularly, it’s important that we learn from those in the past as we look to the next 200 years.  

Tom Bishton, BECA Group, Australasia 

Tom Bishton used chocolate biscuits and an elastic band to demonstrate and describe the concept of post-tensioning in structures. 

In 200 seconds, he described what post-tensioning is, how it works and what some of its uses are.

He likened Newton’s third law (action and reaction) to the forces acting on the biscuits and elastic bands as he built a biscuit bridge – showing the impact of compression versus tension.  

With structural elements are locked into compression, while others are in tension with the overall structure then being able to carry load.

He finished his pitch with examples and practical uses of post-tensioning in everyday civil engineering structures, from bridges to retaining walls to maritime structures.  

Professor Saiful Amin FICE, Bangladesh University, South Asia 

Professor Saiful Amin’s pitch discussed the Hardinge Bridge and its resilience. The double track rail bridge is still in use more than 100 years after its construction and he talked about how engineers have contributed to this. 

Stephanie Martin, AECOM, Northern Ireland 

Stephanie Martin drew similarities between bathtubs and reservoirs to demonstrate how the build-up of sediments can cause major issues for civil engineers.  

Discussing the different ingredients, such as cherries, marshmallows, biscuit pieces, and chocolate, needed to create the end product, Catriona was able to simplify the concept of using by-products of biomass energy production in cement mortar.

Using a waste product made from renewable energy in ordinary cement gives it strength for building, plus improves environment palatability and sustainability. 

Alistair Lenczner, Expedition, East of England 

In Alistair Lenczner’s talk, he explored the role ICE could be playing, 200 years after its establishment. He explored the dual roles ICE plays as the ‘daddy’ of engineering institutions.  

Discussing the somewhat fragmented sector of British engineering, he described how ICE could act as a forum for institutions of all engineering disciplines, allowing them to come together and spark ideas for the industry as whole.

He went on to outline how the Institution needed to go back to the early routes of ‘civil’ engineers, as being for the people.

By engaging more with citizens, keeping them informed about the role and work of engineers, the Institution could cement its place as a go-to place of knowledge about engineering.  

Joanna Bateman, WSP, North West 

Joanna Bateman reached for a bottle of wine to demonstrate how civil engineering helps us enjoy the things we love most and how it has an impact on “pretty much everything”.  

From her time spent encouraging schoolchildren to think about civil engineering as a profession, she became aware how little people understood about the industry.

She challenges herself to find three ways civil engineers have affected anybody’s “favourite thing” from houses to games consoles to a cat.  

Using her favourite thing, wine, she explored the many ways engineers have helped create the product – from the manufacturing sites where bottling and packaging to the roads used for transportation, from the infrastructure where the bottles are stored and sold to the sewers where one might relieve themselves after consumption. 

Emma Watkins, Skanska, London 

Emma Watkins found a novel approach to outline the work she was involved with at the Waterloo Station upgrade. She used a bow and arrow to explain the installation of the new pedestrian bridge at the London station.

To increase capacity on South West trains, there was a need to reuse the old international platforms. But, to allow connectivity for passengers, they needed to build a bridge. To build the footbridge, they had to remove concrete.

Using a bow and arrow, Emma explained how the weight distribution between the buildings meant they had to think of ways to ensure stability when the concrete was removed. By tying the domestic and international roofs together, they were able to construct a new bridge in place of the concrete.