Organisation - April 21, 2011

Orion rising: the first pile is sunk

The first pile was sunk to launch the building of Orion on Friday afternoon, to the sound of The Sound of Science, a Wageningen band. Just 329 piles to go.

Fireworks for the sinking of Orion's first pile
The honour of sinking the first pile went to two students at Wageningen secondary school het Pantarijn, Ties Kuijpers and Laura Jaldres. A symbolic choice. 'After all, we are building Orion for the students of tomorrow', explains board member Tijs Breukink. Not that either Ties nor Laura currently have any intention of studying at Wageningen University.

This is somewhat typical of the slapdash nature of the launch of Orion. High school students who have nothing to do with it, fireworks that fizzle out and an 'augmented reality' presentation that does not really work. And there was far more interest in the sinking of 'Bernhard's pole' elsewhere in the town last week.

And yet the sinking of the first pile is a big event for the campus and the start of a major project. At 41 metres in height, Orion will soon just about tower over its neighbours the Forum and Atlas. It will boast the biggest lecture theatre on the campus (seating 700) and will accommodate 2,600 students. By way of comparison: the forum accommodates 3,400. The 40-million-euro building should be ready by the end of next year.

Soil structure
But it starts in the ground. Bouwer Heijman (His first name is 'Builder' but what's in a name?) will be sinking another 329 piles into the ground in the coming weeks. Each pile is between seven and eleven metres long and the team expects to be able to sink 15 to 20 per day, depending on the structure of the soil, explains Heijmans.

Sinking piles is more complicated than it seems at first glance. The number of blows needed per pile tells you something about the soil's carrying capacity. So the blows are carefully counted. And depending on the carrying capacity of the soil the pile may be sunk deeper into the earth, up to several metres deep. This takes longer. The process is expected to take three to four weeks.