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Defining civil engineering

Tredgold, thomas p cropped

In his congratulatory message to the ICE Membership, our new patron, Prince Andrew, ushered in the ICE’s bicentenary year, and alluded to Thomas Tredgold’s definition of civil engineering which appeared in the original 1828 charter. This described civil engineering as being “the art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man”.

Tredgold’s words were evocative, expressive and eloquent. They also claimed dominion of man over nature and a narrow definition of the beneficiaries.

In his ICE/Halcrow Sustainability Lecture (New Civil Engineer 9 February 2012), Prince Charles picked this up and queried the modern relevance – and implications – of Tredgold’s definition of civil engineering and urged us to bring it into the 21st century.  

In fact, a simple way of doing this, without losing the elegance of Tredgold’s words, had been proposed at the ICE President’s Conference in Belfast in 2003 and published in the ICE Proceedings in 2004.

It involves changing just three words and modifying Tredgold’s definition of civil engineering to the “the art of working with the great sources of power in nature for the use and benefit of society”.  

Tredgold would surely approve.  

This 21st century definition arose during the course of an ICE Council Task Force to develop the guidelines for embedding sustainability into engineering education.  

As the ICE celebrates its first 200 hundred years and looks forward to the next 200, and with the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a key driver, perhaps now is the time to make a subtle but telling change to the definition of civil engineering in the ICE’s Charter.   

  • Professor Paul Jowitt, ICE President 2009-10
  • Quentin Leiper, ICE President 2006-07
  • Professor Peter Guthrie, former ICE vice president
  • Keith Clarke, former ICE vice president
  • Karen Britton, member, ICE Council
  • David Caiden, member, ICE Council
  • Kate Cairns, member, ICE Council
  • Teresa Frost, member, ICE Council
  • Davide Stronati, chair, ICE sustainability
  • leadership team
  • Judith Sykes, editor, ICE Engineering “Sustainability Journal”
  • Nigel Sagar, former member of the ICE sustainability guidance panel
  • Josh Macabuag, president’s apprentice 2009/10
  • Tom Wilcock, president’s apprentice 2009/10

Explaining away Carillion collapse

You argue that the Carillion collapse is just a natural part of healthy capitalism, without exploring fundamental arguments to the contrary.

To ignore or dismiss off-hand the questions raised about privatisation of basic state activities, cost-driven procurement, corporate governance rules and needlessly long complex supply chains and paint this as a picture of healthy Darwin-esque competition seems disingenuous.

It is time the ICE questioned some of the fundamental issues underpinning our industry, and considered how engineering can better contribute to society – the status quo is going to be shaken up and we should be at the forefront of change, not banging the drum for a broken model.

  • Mark Button, posted online on article headed “Comment | Carillion collapse: Hogwash and hyperbole”

Editor’s note: The ICE is currently leading a review of the industry’s standard business model.

Broken public procurement

I do not seem to have seen any prompt reaction from the ICE to the disastrous collapse of Carillion.

This will affect hundreds of our members and almost certainly result in the failure of many sub-contractors and suppliers. Clearly there is something fundamentally lacking in the government procurement process.

Our small specialist consultancy has to overcome numerous hurdles, including demonstrating financial stability, when seeking to gain access to even modest government contracts, but it appears that major players can bypass these.

What is the ICE policy on such matters? indeed, does it even have a policy? And if not, why not?

  • Anthony Bates

Carillion’s Auditors in the spotlight

If someone can explain how a set of accounts can be independently audited, giving a company a clean bill of health four months before a crippling profits warning revealing huge losses then I would welcome some insight.

Companies regularly issue profit warnings; these are not always the indication that a company is going to fail, but in this case the hole that has opened up was enormous. Surely it should have been visible to the auditors?

  • Jon Livesey, posted online on article headed “Comment | Carillion collapse: Hogwash and hyperbole”

Why a tunnel  at Stonehenge?

In the February issue of New Civil Engineer a letter from Derek Godfrey caused you to invite the views of other readers on the proposed A303 Stonehenge project. Here are mine.

Stonehenge tunnel crop

Stonehenge tunnel crop

Stonehenge tunnel artists impression

In my belief the original £500M estimate was an obscene amount for this scheme, let alone the now estimated £1.6bn, an amount which will surely rise again. This huge sum would be sufficient for several significant projects elsewhere around the country, achieving I would think, much more in the way of economic benefit and relief for the traffic vital for the country’s prosperity. If we must have a tunnel as originally mooted, then a simple “cut and cover” should cost considerably less, albeit it might involve some unsightly temporary soil heaps.

However, I really cannot see why a tunnel is needed at all. A carefully designed vertical and horizontal alignment which lowers the carriageway could render it visually and aurally invisible as was achieved at the A55 crossing of the River Conwy in North Wales. With a suitable landscape architectural input, I am sure the road could be made to “disappear” into its surroundings, and with no detriment to Stonehenge, leaving people wondering why it could not have been done years ago.

  • David Price (F)

 Don’t bury the A303 at Stonehenge

I wholeheartedly agree with the views of Derek Godfrey, expressed in the February edition of this magazine.

Apart from the enormous cost of the Stonehenge tunnel, which surely cannot be justified in the present economic climate, the construction of such would deprive today’s travellers of a view which has been enjoyed and revered by countless generations over the millennia.

Why should this be taken away? To hide the highway in a tunnel will serve no purpose whatsoever.

  • John Robson (M)

Editor’s note: Thanks to Anthony, John and the eight other readers who expressed similar views. Perhaps the question should have been: “do any readers believe that the Stonehenge conundrum cannot be solved by dualling the existing road (with modest vertical realignment)?”

Technical expertise is exported as well as imported

To those who advocate protectionism and a strategy of UK companies first for UK projects, and for those who lament perceived dependence on the expertise of others, I say get over it and get real about the balance of expertise flowing both ways.

By all means promote the UK’s commitment to research and development at home, but honestly, anyone might think that you would prefer to pull up the drawbridge and opt out of the wider community.

Car Park Blaze raises design questions

Isobel Byrne Hill wrote on the subject of failure with loss of life (Your View, last month). Learning from failure where life is not lost can be just as important.

Take the recent fire in Liverpool which destroyed a multi-storey car park along with reportedly 1,200 to 1,400 vehicles in it.

The blaze started in a single vehicle and rapidly spread because of the proximity of other vehicles and the lack of a sprinkler system. The intensity of the fire was eventually beyond the capability of the fire service to suppress with water.

Press photos of the structure taken some days later showed extensive structural damage with bare reinforcement and deposits of spalled concrete. The scene was similar but on a smaller scale to that which I saw following Channel Tunnel fires.

Although no lives were lost, the message to those in the civil engineering community designing urban developments with integral or basement car parks should be clear – do not underestimate the fire loading from large numbers of parked vehicles and the structural damage which can result from a fire.

  • Donald Lamont (F)




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