Brunel had many qualities which made him the brilliant and inspirational engineer we remember. Try Ruby Kitching's Brunel Factor questionnaire to find out if you share some of his qualities and whether you are a modern day Brunel.
Brunel was appointed chief engineer on the Great Western Railway without any previous railway engineering experience.
His enthusiasm and confidence won him the job.
You are approached to lead a new project which is completely different from anything you've worked on before. Do you:
a) suggest someone else leads the project b) say you'll take it on, making sure there's a high quality team behind you c) say yes straight away because you love the challenge
2. Vision and leadership.
In the 1830s, it was thought impossible to cross the Atlantic Ocean by steamship because of the amount of coal required to complete the journey. Brunel contested this and designed the Great Western using his understanding of simple physics.
A client approaches you with the most outrageous brief, akin to designing a bridge to the moon.
a) laugh and change the subject b) steer the client towards something more conventional c) start sketching ideas on the back of a napkin
After the near catastrophic collapse of the Thames Tunnel during construction, Brunel held a grand banquet attended by workers and Thames Tunnel company directors and guests. It was a grand gesture to all who attended and to the outside world that the tunnel would be a success, despite the problems of the past.
You are project engineer on a high profile, ground breaking project and you are told that there is a major accident on site.
The client is furious and site morale is low. The public thinks the project will be a failure.
a) resign b) hold private meetings with the client and workers and try and win back their trust c) Speak collectively with all stakeholders and win back support by publicly discussing the challenges of the project and how they will be overcome
4. Technical brilliance
Brunel's design for a 'closed suspension bridge' at Saltash was a world first. Its suspension cables are anchored to pier heads with wrought iron compression tubes mirroring the cable's catenary. Cross bracing between deck, cable and tube created a rigid and effi cient structure.
In its day it was half the weight and cost of bridges spanning similar distances.
You are asked to design a bridge of medium span. Do you:
a) adapt a design you have used before b) work from first principles to create a scheme which suits the characteristics of the site c) seeing the technical requirements for the bridge as a challenge, set about creating something unique to make your mark in the world
5. All rounder
When Brunel worked on the Great Western Railway, he was involved in every level of detail - choosing the route, the type of track, the design of stations and decorative details.
When working on a project do you:
a) stick to designing the aspects you are contractually signed up to do b) meticulously design the engineering aspects, liaising closely with other design team members c) immerse yourself in the project and offer suggestions to improve every aspect of it
6. Self assurance
While the distance between tracks across most of the country was being built at 4ft 81/2in, Brunel decided to build his railway tracks 7ft apart. He argued that higher speeds could be achieved on the broader gauge, although he had no real proof of this at the time.
When designing a structure, do you:
a) consider only the requirements of today and over its design life - stated by the client b) consider how the structure can be adapted should needs change c) try to convince the client that the brief should be developed to take future technology into account while pushing for the technology to be trialled on the project
7 Confidence and drive
When the Great Western Railway bill was passing through Parliament, Brunel had to defend his design over a gruelling 11-day cross examination from hostile landowners and other opponents to the scheme.
He was praised for being quick thinking, thorough and dedicated to the need to construct the railway. He was just 29 at the time.
One of the projects you are working on has entered the public consultation stage. Many oppose the scheme and you are asked to represent the client at a public meeting. Do you:
a) write a detailed brief for someone else to attend the meeting b) attend, but let someone else take the lead, contributing when he or she is stumped c) attend, open the meeting and speak passionately about the project because you wholeheartedly believe in it.
Mostly As You are extremely valued in the profession for being conscientious and reliable, but taking on the responsibilities of a daredevil Brunel is the least of your aspirations. You would prefer to let others take the limelight and diligently plough on with the day to day challenges of civil engineering projects.
Mostly Bs There are exciting times ahead for you - you just need a little more experience under your belt to give your confidence a boost! You are a fabulous engineer, technically competent and liked and respected by your peers.
But you often find yourself lost in the crowds. The world is missing out on all that you have to offer.
Stick your neck out and you might be surprised at the positive reaction. You are a Brunel in the making.
Mostly Cs Is there anything you're not afraid of- Gutsy, driven and imaginative - you are a virtually unstoppable force in the construction industry. It is possible, however, that you can become a little blinkered in the rush to achieve your goals - perhaps leaving the odd client out of pocket or site worker injured. But guided by instinct, you are a natural leader inspiring those around you and instilling that belief that almost anything can be achieved - bigger, better, faster, stronger. You have the Brunel Factor.