Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Ahead of the competition

Working lives - Engineering has got a new ambassador in the form of Stephen Morley.

Stephen Morley's initials are often used to conjure the superhero-esque moniker Stadium Man. This year he was sought out by the International Olympic Committee to be its structural advisor and, earlier this year was asked by the China Construction Company to review designs for the Beijing Olympic swimming complex (see feature, p18).

How do you get picked to vet what are probably the world's most extravagant sports venues?

The 45 year old civil and structural engineer led his first design project at the tender age of 24, while with Anthony Hunt Associates, and 21 years later has the design of 23 stadia and arenas under his belt. And we're not talking about any old football stands.

Morley has carved out a reputation for pushing forward relentlessly the frontiers of long span roof design. He built on his groundbreaking arched truss design for Huddersfield's McAlpine stadium with canopies for Chelsea's Stamford Bridge stadium supported by 'invisible cantilevers'.

The north and south stand roofs were extremely light at 40kg/m 2and did away with the conspicuous heavy cantilevers that had dominated stadium design to that point.

For this he was hailed by one broadsheet design critic as a 'young genius' - he was 32.

His CV since then includes running his own firms SMP and Modus Consulting, and a stint at Sinclair Knight Merz. For the last two years he has been one half of Londonbased Bianchi Morley. It is a roll call of major sports venues, reaching a crescendo with the concept design of Sydney's Olympic Stadium Australia, Wembley Stadium, Ascot Racecourse's new grandstand, and structural redesign of the Athens Olympic Stadium.

Morley modestly says he reviewed in principle the design of six other Athens arenas.

'Reviewing in principle is a matter of scrutinising the design methodologies to see that they're consistent with the original concept and philosophy, ' Morley explains. 'The danger [with modern design processes and multi-disciplinary offices] is always fragmentation.

The whole design process is increasingly containerised - you do structures, you do fire, you do the circulation and transport issues. . .

There's a real danger of losing the larger concepts.

'Checking to ensure continuity in thinking is a way of ensuring that you're seeing the whole picture, and is the best way of averting disasters.'

It was during design of Sheffield's Don Valley Stadium that the Hillsborough Stadium tragedy took place. Morley was drafted in to co-author the Football Stadium Advisory Design Council's guide on stadium roofs.

The experience ignited an intense and lasting 'obsession' with safety.

Much of Morley's work is in design reviews - 'catch a major fault in the design of a stadium and you can save literally thousands of lives' - and he is increasingly in demand as an expert witness to disaster inquiries. Most recently he has been participating in the inquiry into the collapse last year of an aircraft hanger in Canberra, Australia.

'With disasters you can't help but be involved - and they should offer a great learning opportunity.'

One of Morley's great frustrations is that knowledge stemming from structural failures is not widely shared across the industry. The engineering forensics best-seller Why buildings fall down, by Matthys Levy and Mario Salvadori, is on Morley's essential reading list.

He is planning a lecture series at Cambridge University with his business partner, mechanical and structural engineer Carolina Bianchi, on engineering principles and practice. This is intended to inject some of his experience back into the engineering profession.

And to encourage interest in and enthusiasm for engineering, Morley agreed this year to be the Engineering & Technology Board's ambassador for engineering.

'I want to show people that you can have an exciting, international career - that engineering is a very engaging process.'

He believes his nomination last month for lifetime achievement in this year's Prince Philip Design Awards, alongside typographers, furniture designers and graphic designers, shows civil and structural engineering can cut it alongside other 'creative' design disciplines.

Although Morley was pipped to the winner's post by architect Sir Norman Foster, guests at the awards insisted that Stadium Man ran away with the popular vote.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.