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Elusive engineers make it hard for programme makers

Television programme makers find engineers too difficult to contact, a BBC commissioning boss told NCE yesterday.

BBC head of commissioning arts Mark Bell said that programme makers are keen to recognise civil engineers’ work but that they are less accessible than architects.

Bell was speaking to NCE at a preview of a new BBC Four season titled Nation Builders. The first programme, called The Brits who Built the Modern World, focuses on the work of five globally significant architects - Richard Rogers, Terry Farrell, Nicholas Grimshaw, Norman Foster and Michael Hopkins.

NCE asked Bell whether producers see engineers as too boring to appear on TV, a question raised in its cover feature two weeks ago (NCE 30 January).

“I would love to celebrate the work that engineers do,” said Bell . “But they can be quite hard to get at.”
Bell said he appreciated that the programme’s title may appear controversial by using the word “built” in relation to architects’ work, he said there was likely to be a wider issue with the definition of engineering as being more rooted in science than having associations with design and the arts.

Producer and director of The Brits who Built the Modern World Peter Sweasey said that his programme did consider engineers are well as architects.

“Mainstream media often perpetuates the image of the architect as a lone genius - a sketch of the pen and the building is done,” he says in a note about the programme.

“I wanted to get away from that - the stories of buildings in the series are also told by other partners from each of the practices, as well as engineers and clients,” the note adds.

The note explicitly mentions “seminal” structural engineer Tony Hunt who will appear in the programme alongside the architects in focus.

The second programme covers the Brutalism style of architecture the final one focuses on Civic Trust founder Ian Nairn.

  • The Brits who Built the Modern World is on BBC Four on Thursday at 9pm.

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