Building the Statue of Unity: A Project Management Feat
Juhi Chaudhary

Country pays tribute to the Iron Man of India with a statue that also showcases its engineering and artistic talent

Standing at 182 feet, which is twice the height of the Statue of Liberty in the United States, the Statue of Unity in Gujarat rises on the western shore of India as the pride of the nation. Built on a budget of Rs. 2,989 crore, it is a tribute to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, freedom fighter and India’s first deputy prime minister.

Patel, who is popularly known as the Iron Man of India, was responsible for unifying the country post partition in 1947. The world’s tallest statue with bronze cladding is not just a fitting tribute to the country’s Independence hero but also its modern engineering prowess.

Constructed by Larsen and Toubro (L&T), the Statue of Unity is located on Sadhu Hill on the banks of the Narmada in Gujarat. The statue towers over another engineering marvel, the Sardar Sarovar Dam, and has already become a draw for tourists from across the country.

The project was the winner of PMI India’s Project of the Year in the large category in 2019.

Key project features

Unique challenges

When L&T took over the project, the team knew one of the biggest challenges would be to bring out the finer details – the facial expressions, folds in the garment, orientation, and posture. But these were important facets for the sake of authenticity and accuracy.

It meant a fusion of art and engineering on an unprecedented scale. It required engagement with non-conventional agencies, like sculptors and historians, and going through huge archives of Patel’s photographs before zeroing in on the look.

The final posture of the statue, in which one leg is ahead of the other mimicking a walking stance, also posed significant challenge. It meant that the statue couldn’t have one strong, wide base, which is the norm in tall statues for protection against wind speed. After several rounds of discussions, the design engineers opted for two giant columns to pass through both the legs of the statue to make it stable, without compromising on the aesthetic aspect.

“Our engineering and construction team, along with the architects, the sculptor, and a reputable global consultant have converted our honourable prime minister’s dream into reality in record time. Our commitment to the scale, speed, and quality of our engineering has yielded a desirable outcome, which is not only structurally superior but aesthetically appealing as well,” says S.N. Subrahmanyan, CEO and managing director, L&T.

Since it was a highly publicized project of national significance, the teams had to work closely with the government authorities on design approvals. Verification of design documents resulted in an increase in approval time from the contractual 21 days to 45 days. This adversely affected the project schedule and required the engineering contractor to deploy additional resources to mitigate the delays.

L&T also battled high attrition of workers at the beginning of the project. This was due to the remote location of the project site in a tribal area that lacks good infrastructure and amenities.

Some of the key engineering challenges L&T faced were:
• Working within the river bed on a hilltop
• Environmental clearance to protect the aqua tic and wildlife population in the area
• The statue’s stance and orientation
• Building a high speed lift and emergency stairs inside the legs of the statue
• Maintaining the strength and stability without compromising on the aesthetics

The other key challenges were:
• Coordination among man y teams and vendors with different objectives
• Procuring material at a location with poor access and mobile connectivity
• Creating a conducive work environment with basic amenities
• Emotional attachment and expectations of the people
• Managing hostilities from local residents

Use of design innovation, cutting-edge technology
Design innovation, advanced technology, and lateral thinking were applied at every stage as the prestigious project had no room for error or delays. The statue required 6,500 bronze panels of different sizes, shapes, and textures to be assembled. Bronze of minimum thickness was used in the panels to keep the total weight in check.

With the help of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, the team tagged each bronze panel with details such as casting date, inspection status, and its location, and fed that data into a master database. This will enable engineers to easily retrieve data on each panel at any time with the help of an RFID detector gun and an android phone.

Two 200-tonne tuned mass dampers, which are devices used to reduce the impact of vibrations during an earthquake, were installed. That makes the statue earthquake resistant.

L&T has used special concrete to strengthen the core of the statue comprising the two legs. Indigenous technology was used to generate self-compacting cold concrete which measured less than 15 degree Celsius. This was accomplished using chilled water and ice flakes. This concrete was then poured at a high speed, which was faster than that used during the construction of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

The statue has an outer acrylic-based weather resistant protective coating which will last 100 years.

There was a great deal of pressure on the project managers to not just build the statue in record time, but to also accommodate later additions, such as exhibits for the exhibition hall and projection mapping facilities for a light and sound show, including developing the content for it. L&T imported equipment and worked closely with the government authorities and assigned specialists to meet these requirements.

Some of the best practices applied were:
• Building Information Modeling to prepare 4D reports for creative monitoring/approvals
• CCTV cameras, drones, and time-la pse photography for overall view of the project site
• Mobile android application like L&T’s Pro-Cube for progress monitoring
• Digital software for project documentation
• WhatsApp for daily progress monitoring and follow-ups with the site team
• Barcoding of drawings that allows users to see 3D images of the drawings on their mobile phones

Toward the finish line

Due to the sheer grit of the project team and sophisticated engineering and project management skills, the target of constructing the statue, memorial center, service building, and a 5-km-long, 4-lane approach road with one major and two minor bridges, was completed within 33 months and finished on budget.

The whole process was based on the ISO 9001-2015 framework of risk assessment and mitigation. The project management team fixed responsibility and accountability at the individual, group, and project levels for smooth delivery of the project.

PMI India Awards 2020

The nomination process for PMI India Awards 2020 has just begun. Register and submit preliminary information about the project you want to nominate for the award. The deadline for submitting this information is 15 April.

So go ahead and click on the link below to make your nomination. Check the link also for information on award categories and important dates.

For effective project planning, L&T conducted a workshop in which it analyzed sequential and parallel activities from the point of view of time and resource optimization. The project management team worked like a federal structure where different teams worked independently with their fixed areas of responsibility, but each worked toward a common goal.

In this work structure, the project management team closely monitored the intersecting activities of the different teams, but left the micro management of each activity to the department in-charge. Since time was of the essence, the team looked for incremental innovation in design and engineering at every stage to reduce time. The project gave employment to over 8,000 people, including over 2,000 local residents during the duration of the project construction. The Statue of Unity has attracted over 1.5 million tourists since its inauguration on 31 October 2018. It has boosted the local economy by providing direct and indirect employment to local people.

“It is a tremendous achievement by our building and factories business vertical. Right from the concept through the entire process of developing the design, the features and characteristics of the statue, the engineering, project planning, logistic, and cost controls, were all managed extremely efficiently and reflected a triumph of teamwork. We are proud to have built a monument that makes the country proud,” says M.V. Satish, whole-time director and senior executive vice president, Buildings, Minerals & Metals, L&T.