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Bill Brown: a different view

I was most interested to read the letter from Dr William Frischmann in which he drew attention to Dr William Brown's involvement in the design of the Messina Crossing.
I have just finished re-reading the report of the Royal Commission into the Failure of West Gate Bridge in Australia (Yarra Bridge), which collapsed in October 1970. Dr Brown was mentioned several times, usually in terms which were very critical of his design and of his communication with staff on site.

The collapse of Yarra Bridge had been preceded earlier in 1970 by that of the Cleddau Bridge in Pembrokeshire which also involved design by Dr Brown.

I was very much affected by these events as I had arrived on site at Avonmouth in August of that year for the erection of the superstructure by Fairfield-Mabey. Once again the design was by Dr Brown. Avonmouth became the test bed for the development of the "steel box girder" rules which were being drafted by the Merrison Committee.

From my knowledge of Bill Brown, he undoubtedly possessed a brilliantly fertile brain, but his genius was flawed by a compelling obsession to reduce the weight of a structure to the point of being unsafe during construction and inadequate in service.

In my own experience, he liked to take unnecessary risks, often saying "It will be alright". He was very fortunate that luck was often on his side, or that somebody else salvaged the situation. That was not the case for the 35 men who died at Yarra.


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