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2008 is a big year for structural engineers: Their institution celebrates its centenary, the main Eurocodes will be available and continuing professional development (CPD) will become compulsory. Jessica Rowson reports.

Members all over the world are set to celebrate 100 years of the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) by attending events which aim to engage the public and encourage the dissemination of engineering knowledge.

Leading the Institution during these festivities is current president Sarah Buck. High on her agenda is promoting structural engineering to the public and raising the profile of structural engineers.

There are exhibitions for the public in Winchester and the East Midlands as well as at the prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Another change for this year is the introduction of compulsory professional development for structural engineers.

The decision to formalise this aspect of professional life was taken after a member survey revealed the importance placed on the high standards and professional competence of a structural engineer.

Having sat what must be one of the most gruelling professional exams, members are rightly proud of their chartered status and felt that CPD reporting was a logical way to make sure standards are maintained.

"A big driver was the international side," says IStructE president Sarah Buck. "We have a lot of members overseas and there is a requirement [for CPD] in many of these countries like Singapore." In Scotland and Jersey, structural engineers must be registered to practise, which also requires CPD records to be produced annually.

A lot of CPD this year will no doubt be covering design to Eurocodes which, while not coming into force yet, should certainly be coming into practice this year with the majority of the national annexes being published this month.

Some people may see it as a burden to have to familiarise themselves new design guides, Eurocodes offer UK consultants a level playing field for winning work in Europe.

The non linear analysis used should see leaner designs being produced which decreases the cost of construction, to the delight of the client, and to the benefit of the environment.


Building high, spanning voids, how would you bring structural engineering to the masses?

Later this month, giant models of the Burj Dubai and Millau viaduct will be wheeled into the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, a venue more known for traditional crafts.

They will be part of the IStructE's exhibition, Unseen Hands - 100 years of structural engineering, produced in collaboration with the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Presenting structural engineering to the public in an accessible and engaging format was the challenge presented to writer and journalist David Littlefield, who is curating the exhibition.

"It's a subject you can't capture by being as comprehensive as possible," says Littlefield. "You can't alienate kids and families and so we had to exclude a lot. We had to focus on the easy-to-tell stories."

There are three main subject areas in the exhibition; building high, spanning voids and enclosing space. The subject is told in pairs of structures, one old and one new.

"It would have been easy to use structures from 1990 onwards but we wanted to make the effort to cover the century," says Littlefield.
There was particular difficulty in sourcing material for the older international structures. One such one was the Salginatobel Bridge in Switzerland

"The engineer, Maillart, had long since died," says Littlefield. "The question is where is his archive? Eventually I tracked it down to Zurich."
The primary pair of old and modern structures for each category is then backed up by other supplementary structures.

"We were looking for striking structures, easily explained," says Littlefield.

"No doubt there will be some engineers disappointed that their favourite structure is not there. I've got sympathy for that. There's about fifty structures mentioned in the exhibition, but if you took them out, you could find another fifty to take their place easily."

The V&A recommended that the exhibition should be aimed at the average 12 year old, so finding technical information which could be easily understood was one of the challenges Littlefield faced.

"The Empire State [Building] is actually 6 inches shorter than it should have been," says Littlefield. "They only realised when they were installing the lift, that the lift cables appeared too long. The sheer weight of the building had pressed it down. That's a gobsmacking fact."
Littlefield is a renowned architectural writer but his work with structural engineers has made him a convert to the cause.

"Now I would be a real champion of structural engineering, I would tell anyone how fascinating their world is," says Littlefield.
Even though this exhibition will undoubtedly be enjoyed by structural engineers, hopefully it should also explain to the public more about what engineers do.

"Hopefully some kids will be leaving thinking, 'hmmm, structural engineering, I might talk to the careers teacher about that'."
Unseen Hands :100 years of structural engineering will be running at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 26 March to the 7 September.


Industry gurus speak out on the future of the profession

Many a geotechnical engineer can be heard lamenting how their feats of engineering are always buried where nobody can appreciate them. The same can be said for engineers working in the highways and water industries.

It is only the structural engineer who can quite definitively walk down a street and point out what exactly he or she has worked on. It's tangible, and often the most obvious form of engineering which evolves from playing with Lego.

"It's a creative process where there's a physical manifestation of your efforts at the end," says Buro Happold associate director Professor Richard Harris whose projects include the recent Stirling nominated Savill Building.

For WSP Cantor Seinuk technical director John Parker it is the short time scale in which you see things built."When I started as a bridge engineer, I went to the pub and talked to a guy who had worked on the same motorway for ten years. Structures are on a quicker time scale: you see things built and it has immediacy.

Ask any structural engineer and they can immediately point out their projects." Parker's repertoire includes the Hungerford Bridge and the Shard of Glass skyscraper in London.

There is also the added pleasure of seeing the structure being used, in many cases, by the public. Transport interchanges are often referred to as the cathedrals of our time. Think of the soon to be opened Arup-designed Heathrow Terminal 5 or SKM Antony Hunt's Waterloo International station. Increasingly these are becoming tourist attractions in their own right. And structures like the biomes at the Eden project are attracting as much attention as the tourist attractions they enclose.

"No matter how many pictures you see [of the Eden Project], you can't appreciate the scale until you see it for the first time," says SKM Antony Hunt's national technical leader Alan Jones. The pleasure in seeing how the public has responded so warmly. "seeing people's faces light up" - is one of the greatest pleasures of being the structural engineer on the project, he adds.

It was making the difference in the built environment that drove director of Jane Wernick Associates, Jane Wernick to become involved in structures. She produced the original concept for the London Eye when she worked with Arup. "I was firstly interested in engineering as engineering has had a hand in everything. I then became interested in buildings as the built environment is important to our psyche," she explains.

So where does the future lead? The pressure of reducing energy consumption will lead to greater innovations in structural engineering, says Jones.

"If energy in use is reduced as much as planned, the embedded energy must increase," says Jones succinctly. So structural engineers will be looking to reduce whole life running costs through their designs. "We will soon be facing the point where people will be looking at us again to reduce margins."

But Harris believes that the future lies in new materials from more sustainable sources. "materials that can be harvested, low energy materials coming from renewable crops."

But Harris already recognises that there are problems with trying to achieve this. "These materials are not durable. This is potentially a solution to waste in that they are biodegradable, but it's more of a problem.

WSP's Parker believes that designing 100% recyclable buildings is what the industry should aspire to.

"Every bit of a BMW can be identified to recycle it," says Parker. "We will probably end up designing buildings like that. At the moment when we recycle concrete structures, we get low grade concrete we can use for roadbase. If parts are identifiable, we might be able to use them for high grade use."

Expedition Engineering director Chris Wise - famous for designing London's Millennium Bridge, believes that a radical shakeup of the design team and the role of the engineer is needed in the future.

"Structural engineering has gone past its sell by date and is past being a stand alone profession. Engineers need to try to engage with bigger questions rather than asking the architect. "The next 100 years won't be like the last."

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