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Eclectic collection

What the MacRobert Award judges liked about the vast cablenet structure at Greenwich was that it was more than just a very cost-effective answer to the client's unprecedented requirements.

Chairman of the award committee Professor Geoff Hewitt of Imperial College explains.

'One-off projects could win, like the Severn Bridge did back in 1969. But we saw the technology as having enormous potential for other large structures, which tipped the balance in its favour,' he says.

The eight-man committee, made up equally of eminent civil, chemical, mechanical and electrical engineers, took several months to whittle the 60 or so entries down to a shortlist of four.

This year's finalists were the usual eclectic selection: the Dome was up against a miniature gyroscope with no moving parts, digital terrestrial television, and the 'smart' carbon fibre sailing rig developed by Hamble- based Carbospars.

'Entrants have to have a significant British element, and there has to be evidence of early commercial success,' Hewitt says. 'Some of the entries come from lone inventors, a few defy the Second Law of Thermodynamics, but it's usually very hard to get down to the final four.'

Originally the award was the direct responsibility of the MacRobert Trusts. These were set up after World War II by Lady MacRobert, the widow of the founder of the British India Corporation, in memory of her three sons. Two died in the RAF, one in a tragic accident, and Lady MacRobert's first act was to donate a number of aircraft to the RAF.

One Spitfire was named 'MacRobert's Revenge', but the trusts provided a more lasting memorial. These still give significant support to agricultural and medical research, education, and youth and welfare work. Lady MacRobert had a longstanding interest in science and industry, and the award was established after her death to act as a spur to British manufacturers.

Two years ago the MacRobert Committee of the Royal Academy of Engineering took over responsibility for the award. The £50,000 prize comes from moneys contributed by the trusts, the Academy and British industry.

Hewitt says the award is not as well known within the construction industry as the committee would like it to be, and hopes the exhibition in the Science Museum will help (see over). Will he be visiting the Dome next year? 'Definitely,' he answers. 'And I'll be taking my family as well.'

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