Project Case Study: Engineering art

Software supports design collaboration and 3-D models for a sculpted landform and surface mine proposal.


Shotton Surface Mine, Northumberland County, United Kingdom

Civil engineer
The Banks Group, Durham, United Kingdom

Product application
Software solutions from Bentley Systems, Inc., helped engineers, geologists, surveyors, and landscape architects collaborate efficiently on extraction and restoration plans, including 3-D visualizations, to enhance the regulatory approval process for a surface coal mine.


Surface mining is an engineering feat of ill repute. It has a reputation of high-impact both during resource extraction and after. Numerous open pit mines in the United States and around the world stand in testament to this fact. However, with the Shotton Surface Mine Project The Banks Group of Durham in the United Kingdom (U.K.) is setting a standard that will put a new face on the prevalent image of surface mining.

The famous coal mining county of Northumberland lies in the heart of England’s mining region. Ten miles northeast of Newcastle, in the township of Cramlington, a local aluminum smelter is looking for a new source of clean-burning coal to remain in business over the next decade. With this pressing demand for a new coal source, The Banks Group launched an endeavor to extract, from an as yet untapped reserve in the area, an estimated 5.5 million tons of low-sulfur coal.

An estimated 3.3 million tons of shale and 1.1 million tons of fireclay to supply the local brick making industry enhance the potential returns of the venture.

However, stringent environmental mitigation and remediation requirements are in place in the U.K. today. U.K. legislation not only requires containment of noise, dust, effluent, and visual impact but also mandates full restoration of a site to either its pre-developed state or to an approved public use space. The approval process for new mines is tough, and local authorities, which are closest to the scene and potentially most heavily impacted, hold the weight in final approval of mining proposals.

Operational impact is mitigated through intensive monitoring, decontamination of site vehicles and personnel, effluent collection and treatment, and dust prevention.

The visual impact of a surface mine is of particular concern to residents, local business, and, local authorities. Large baffle mounds commonly are erected to screen surrounding areas, often residential communities, from mining operations.

In addition to a high standard of regulatory accountability and compliance for any mining operation, this particular coal reserve lies partially within the holdings of a venerable English country estate. The Blagdon Estate is given over in its entirety to use for agriculture and estate park. Most developers would at this point consider this coal reserve out of reach. However, The Banks Group’s motto is Development With Care,” and armed with a can-do attitude and time-saving design techniques, The Banks Group approached the Blagdon Estate with the project proposal none-the-less.

Realizing the difficulty of attaining development approval in this environment and keen to gain the full buy-in of the Blagdon Estate and the surrounding community, The Banks Group’s planning proposals went far above anything attempted or even contemplated in the mining industry to date. The Banks Group intends for the Shotton Project to accomplish the following:
provide complete and integrated screening of the operation from the surrounding areas;
provide immediate remediation and restoration as operations get underway; and
incorporate the design of a landform park to provide public open space immediately during operations and with a network of footpaths across the rest of the project area (845 acres) after project completion.

To design the landform park, The Banks Group and the Blagdon Estate approached world renowned architect and landscape designer Charles Jencks. Jencks, a Baltimore, Md., native, is best known perhaps for the Garden of Cosmic Speculation at his home in Dumfriesshire.

Matt Ridley, from the Blagdon Estate stated, We could have submitted an application simply to restore the site back to agriculture, but we wanted to do something different. I have been mindful to provide public access on the estate and [The] Banks Group wanted to continue their legacy of innovative restoration schemes. So we approached Charles Jencks and asked him to make a work of art with a bulldozer rather than a paintbrush!” Jencks approached the project with enthusiasm, and to begin design work visited the site and gained inspiration from the surrounding countryside. This is a really exciting project, very much like alchemy-turning coal into energy and landscape into art,” Jencks said. It offers us the opportunity to create art from the necessity of extracting energy from coal.” Carefully reviewing the area and surrounding landscape views from the proposed site, he developed a magnificent landform design to fit seamlessly into the surrounding Cheviot Hills.

Dubbed Northumberlandia, the landform in the shape of a reclining woman will extend 1,600 feet long and rise 98 feet at its highest point and will be constructed entirely from more than 2 million tons of mine cuttings. Covering 21 acres, the Northumberlandia will be the largest human form sculpted into a landscape and once complete will be fully accessible to visitors.

Describing the sculpture, Jencks said, The mind and the eye should be led through the landform. You won’t see her in her entirety all the time, but for example, as you walk from the toe over her body, she will come into view; it will have an element of surprise.” In addition, Northumberlandia will be visible to motorists on the adjacent A1 highway, to passengers on the East Coast Mainline Railway, and to travelers on jets approaching Newcastle Airport.

While Jencks worked on the design of the landform park and Northumberlandia, The Banks Group set to work on the mine design and overall project design.

Surveyors captured the surface details of the site and geologists developed a detailed model of the subsurface and resource deposits. Civil and mining engineers developed the mine design and, together with environmental scientists and landscape architects, the extraction schedule across the site, as well as remediation and mitigation efforts.

For such a large site and to gain a sufficiently high return on investment, the design and operation stages need to work smoothly together. Rather than gut the area with a massive resource extraction effort, extraction instead will move piecemeal from the northwest end of the site to the southeast in stages. Each stage also will be restored successively as extraction is completed in that section so that shortly after the project’s extraction schedule is complete, the full site will be restored to a mixture of woodland, wetland, and agriculture with public access.

A key aspect in the project design work is the full screening of mine operations from the surrounding area. The Banks Group designed extensive protective baffles to shield the site progressively as extraction moves across it in stages. The baffles, which are the most visible aspect of the development project next to the landform, are critical components for planning approval. Given the scope and the overall design intent of the project as a whole, the baffle mounds, some as high as 98 feet, were designed to remain as unobtrusive as possible, and also to fit in with the surrounding countryside.

Project manager for the Shotton Surface Mining Project Mark Simmons said, With the A1 dual carriageway running right past the site, we felt it paramount to incorporate the entire site design, including the screening baffles, into the surrounding landscape as much as possible.” To accomplish this aspect successfully, as well as the entire project design, choosing the design software solution was critical.

A site model and a complement of visualization tools were needed to ensure that the design meets requirements from all vantage points and to aid in securing regulatory approval.

In addition, it was critical that the surveyors, geologists, environmental scientists, mining engineers, civil engineers, landscape architects, graphic designers, and other professionals collaborating on the project be able to work together seamlessly. The iterative process of such a large design necessitated a tight workflow that minimized data management and data translation efforts.

The Banks Group used solutions from Bentley Systems, Inc., for the project.

A key benefit of Bentley solutions in this regard is its support of both DGN file and data formats, as well as DWG file formats, across a range of release versions. Given the highly iterative nature of this project in particular, workflow efficiency benefits are extensive. Gone are the multitude of file formats that were required previously when the mainstream solutions each used a different format and translations were required at each step, not just forward but backwards, over and over again,” said Alan Sherwen, Banks Group ICT manager.

Even when subcontractors conducted design work in non-Bentley programs, the Banks Group project team could readily incorporate the design data. The openness of the format allows all data into the main workflow, and once in DGN, the continuity is retained,” Sherwen said. Bentley software has transformed the speed, accuracy, and detail with which we are able to model our sites.” The highly iterative design process is aided further by modeling in the flexible, object-based modeling environment.

Surveyors and geologists incorporate their data directly into a comprehensive and accurate 3-D site model of subsurface and surface features. From this, the site design can take shape, and any changes to the design are incorporated dynamically and directly into the design, adjusting the overall model automatically. This cuts down drastically on the amount of time invested for simply re-cutting or recreating surfaces or site features, and it enables the team to explore different design scenarios actively and immediately. In addition, said Sherwen, Instant and improved volumetric outputs for materials results in better commercial assessments, with reduced risk and improved returns on capital investment.” The high-accuracy model coupled with the visualization power of Bentley solutions further assists in the planning and permitting stage. Rather than relying on an artist’s rendering of a particular view point, model visualization enables committee members to review directly the project’s design and impact from any angle. With model flyovers and multipoint visualization directly captured into PDF file format, the distribution of materials to non-CAD users for their own exploration becomes possible.

With the primary site model in hand, the design of the Northumberlandia landform could now be incorporated. Jencks developed models of the landform, which were scanned and then placed directly onto the developed site model. Using the model’s dynamic object-modeling technology, the reclining figure could be fit into the design and adjusted iteratively as needed to fit all grading and bank requirements.

The dynamic modeling aspect again proved valuable by bringing together the art of Jencks with the practical designs of Simmons and The Banks Group project team.

Project design, visualization materials, and planning documents now are complete and the project faces final approval. Once final approval for the project is secured, construction is scheduled to begin in early 2006. Using Bentley’s direct link to GPS earthworks guidance systems, the model design will be applied directly to the existing site. The landform, the first baffles, and first resource extraction will be completed within a year, securing a low-sulfur coal resource for local industry.

Richard Sapp is project manager, Civil for Bentley Systems, Inc. He can be contacted at

Posted in Uncategorized | January 29th, 2014 by

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