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French construction achievements celebrated in style

Ice news

'FAITES VITE, faites beau, faites grand' - make it fast, make it beautiful and make it big - 17 century French monarch Louis XIV demanded of his fi ance minster Jean Baptiste Colbert when the pair decided to build the huge naval station at Rochefort.

It is a maxim the French have been following on their construction projects ever since, argued new president of the Conseil National des Ingenieurs et des Scientifiques de France British Section (CNISF), Mike Winney.

Winney was giving his presidential address to the society at the ICE last week. From the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty, from cars to aeroplanes, from Pont de Neuilly to Pont de Normandie and the Millau Viaduct, the French have enthusiastically embraced the new and valued high visibility engineering and construction, he said.

It is, Winney said, 'all about élan' - dash, style. To set the tone, he exhibited some of his own élan, constructing a 2.5m tall Meccano model of the Eiffel Tower to stand in the foyer of Great George Street on the night of the meeting. Above it was placed a Meccano section of the Millau viaduct deck, to demonstrate the viaduct's relative height.

French élan, said Winney, could be seen in no nonsense decision-making such as the recognition that nuclear power was the best long term solution for secure energy supplies. And, what the hell, let's stick the plant on the beach, at Penly for instance. No wailing, no wringing of hands, no trying to hide it underground.

Likewise the development of the high speed TGV train network which carves elegantly and visibly through the countryside, celebrating rather than hiding the engineering achievement of moving people around at 300km/h.

The former editor of New Civil Engineer remembered his excitement and astonishment when he viewed the first route from Paris to Lyon for the magazine, both for the design of the locomotives and the fact that the trains went up and down, rather than through, hills.

Bridges in particular are where French élan is truly visible, Winney said. He produced from the ICE archives evidence from a book once belonging to Thomas Telford of early engineering ingenuity from across the channel by Jean Rodolphe Perronet, who worked for both Louis XV and XVI and founded the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees. Beautifully detailed drawings explained how cofferdams were drained, and piles driven for the Pont d'Orleans and Pont de Neuilly. 'Did Telford learn from these-' Winney pondered.

The cycle of daring French projects completes, for the moment, with Michel Virlogeux' exquisite Millau viaduct, although this time with a spot of élan supplied by a British architect, Winney admitted. Faites vite, faites beau, faites grand indeed.

CNSIF is dedicated to linking Anglo-French engineering and science.

All chartered engineers and those with an equivalent scientific professional status are eligible to join.

Fee is £35. Contact mike.

winney@meadowside. com or membership secretary Caton Crozier on 01767 650460. The next meeting on 9 March is a lecture by Michel Virlogeux.

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