Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Greatest Advance?

NCE along with sister titles The Architect's Journal and Construction News and in association with Corus Advance is attempting to find out what single item or concept has nurtured the greatest advance in construction? Ruby Kitching reveals a selection of nominations from some of the big names in construction so far.

One of the most interesting aspects of asking construction leaders what single thing has had the greatest influence on the industry is that you cannot always predict what they will say.

The full spectrum of possibilities is currently landing in the Advance inbox ( and readers are invited to share their thoughts and allegiances too.

So far we have had everything from batteries, nominated by structural engineering supremo Mark Whitby (how did we live without mobile phones and digital cameras?), to silicone sealant, chosen by Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud (it stops his shower leaking and keeps Zaha Hadid’s Stirling Prize-shortlisted Nordpark cable railway canopies intact).

Perhaps more obviously, JCB chairman Sir Anthony Bamford has nominated his father’s invention, the backhoe loader, describing it as “the Swiss Army knife in the company’s toolkit”. Arup tunnelling maestro Mike Glover has chosen the tunnel boring machine for its speed and reliability.

Read the thinking behind these choices in full at

Computers are high up on the list of many of the designers and builders questioned by NCE and sister titles the Architect's Journal and Construction News. But let us not give the IT world too much credit and instead celebrate some of the more discernible inventions and ideas out there. I am still waiting for someone to nominate the portable toilet.

Please send nominations for the Greatest Advance in Construction to or Corus Greatest Advance, New Civil Engineer, 1st Floor, Greater London House Hampstead Road, London, NW1 7EJ. For more information visit

Batteries and cordless technology nominated by structural engineer Mark Whitby

"The battery has enabled mobile technology to take off – calculators, mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras – where would we be without the battery allowing us to stay in touch, record events and do sums? You wonder how we’d all operate without battery power.

"The battery is the unsung hero. On construction sites, there is also the revolution of cordless drills, electric screwdrivers and the like which all make life that bit easier. I think it’s made life infinitely more efficient and actually less stressful because you can always record events and send and receive information."

Mark Whitby is founding partner of engineering firm, Ramboll Whitbybird and former president of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

The Backhoe loader, nominated by Sir Anthony Bamford

"The backhoe loader, perhaps more than any other construction machine, has literally changed the face of the world.

"When in 1954 my father Joseph Cyril Bamford built the first true backhoe loader, he developed a machine that could both load at the front and dig at the back. Today’s backhoe loader can dig, load, carry, excavate and provide power for a host of specialist attachments.

"It has become the Swiss Army knife in the construction company’s toolkit, but it is more than that. It is the first machine to arrive on site and the last to leave as the job is completed.

Sir Anthony Bamford became chairman of JCB at the end of 1975, succeeding his father, the late Joseph Cyril Bamford CBE, who founded the company in 1945.

Silicone sealant nominated by Kevin McCloud

"It's tempting to choose gaffer tape, superglue or cable ties as the most innovative construction technologies of our times. But they are of the realm of Bodgism and hastily assembled reconstruction.

"But I suspect that much of what is new in our age just could not be constructed without silicone sealant (low or high modulus). Curtain glass walling would crack and fall out. Every timber-framed building in the country would fail its airtightness test and throw the Sustainable Homes Code into turmoil. And Zaha Hadid's Nordpark railway blobs would quickly become a haven for Alpine foxes and marmots.

"We would have no space shuttle, Gherkin, or quick-fix solution for the uPVC double-glazing installer. And my shower would leak."

Kevin McCloud is presenter of Channel 4's Grand Designs. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Foresters and Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

The tunnel boring machine. Nominated by Mike Glover

"The developments in tunnel boring machines (TBMs) certainly stick out as a significant advance in the construction industry. On the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, we used one of the best and it was truly beautiful to watch it working.

"TBMs are also reliable, well engineered machines – we tunnelled over 9km without a single maintenance issue. The future of TBM design lies in multiheaded TBMs so that different shapes can be bored."

Mike Glover is Arup's infrastructure design and technical leader and this year received the Instution of Structural Engineers’ highest individual’s award – the Gold Medal.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.