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Cable stay revolution: Wear fears drive new guidance

Bridge design competitions should be overseen by independent structural engineers to ensure inexperienced clients avoid selecting costly or unbuildable schemes, according to new guidance being finalised this week.

The advice from the International Association for Bridge & Structural Engineering (IABSE) will call for all bridge competition designs to be vetted for “engineering adequacy”.

It says that expert technical assistance should always be on hand to help design competition juries select winners.


The new “Guidelines for Design Competitions for Bridges” have been developed by IABSE’s working group 3, chaired by Arup global leader for bridge design Naeem Hussain. Publication is a direct response to concern that architect-led bridge competitions, such as that for the recent New Wear Crossing in Sunderland, were selecting overly complex or even technically unbuildable schemes.

“Some of the architects themselves are saying that the pendulum has swung too much and that designs are becoming so outlandish,” said Hussain. “First you often cannot build them or then the cost is so high that the client abandons the project.”

Hussain said he hoped the guidance, which is due to be published in September, would encourage all clients, particularly those with little or no experience, to be “more realistic” about assessing the way ideas submitted during competitions might translate into real solutions. “Every promoter wants an iconic structure at a cheap price,” said Hussain.

Common sense

He said that as a result they often neglect to properly assess what is actually needed. “There has to be, in the public sector, a modicum of common sense - to opt for something that you know you can build and that is within the requirement of the client.”

The guide is intended to help inexperienced clients by providing criteria to judge aesthetics, cost estimates, buildability and procurement strategy.

Hussain has been helped by structural designer Flint & Neill chief operating officer Ian Firth, Wilkinson Eyre partner Jim Eyre, and independent bridge architects Martin Knight and Keith Brownlie.

Firth said he hoped the new guidance would stop local authorities choosing works of “architectural sculpture” instead of “elegant with more engineering sense”.

Readers' comments (1)

  • So Antony, how does this advice from IABSE sit with your editorial "Passion, not dry data, is the way to drive projects"?

    To paraphrase, you say "....Which is why the driver for successful infrastructure projects must come from passionate advocates rather than spreadsheets..."

    Economic assessments are dry, it's true, but are necessary to provide a basic comparative method. Beyond that, in my humble opinion, there is a requirement for a blend of leadership and common sense, together with enthusiasm based on a balance of optimism and pessimism.

    Difficult to translate into a tangible methodology, I know, but one can usually tell if a proponent possesses these qualities in reasonable proportions. Quite often, from my experience, the "passionate" ones don't.

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