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Viewpoint | The art of civil engineering

In the three years since I moved from London to Plymouth as the new regional director of ICE South West, I have learnt a lot about the area. I have seen the uniqueness of Plymouth, both in the scale of its engineering history and as a changing, growing city with a burgeoning arts scene.

Miranda housden cutout

Miranda housden cutout

Miranda Housden

The ICE defines civil engineering as “the art of planning and building the infrastructure all around us”.

As an artist, I strongly believe civil engineering is an inherently creative, but hidden, practice. Communicating this to contemporary audiences can be done in many ways, but one that has a special resonance is film.

This was in our minds as we thought of ideas to raise the South West’s profile through our 200th year. We arrived at the idea of a new film, Engineering Plymouth, to build on the Engineering… series. It is an opportunity to showcase the incredible role civil engineers have played in creating, designing and building Plymouth – highlighting the infrastructure, from harbours, breakwaters, lighthouses and railways, that keep our city moving.

More than just engineering

But more than just a film about engineering, we knew it needed to involve and showcase the community that lives here, which has supported the city as much as the structures that have been built. And we did. In completing this year-long project, we have worked with 14 partners and over 30 contributors, who have generously donated time, resources and funding.

It has been a true collaboration between global engineering companies, national art organisations and local schools and businesses.

The film was launched in early November at public screenings for the community at the Plymouth Arts Centre.

We will continue to show it at school visits, and have plans for a museum exhibition and an online resource to house all the extra material and information the film unearthed.

Inspiring a generation

Ultimately, we hope this film inspires and encourages the next generation to join the profession by showing that civil engineering is a rewarding and creative career.

This unique production has successfully brought together the community to show the history, and the future, of this city that we all love.

One of the film’s many contributors summed up the project beautifully: “For the diverse communities involved in making this film, it has provided a sense of place, of community and a great sense of pride for the city we live in.

“It’s inspired people to take a closer look at and explore what surrounds us – the infrastructure we take for granted daily.”

Engineering Plymouth has certainly shown that civil engineering is more than the structures we see – it has been shaping and building our futures and 200 years on, outliving us all.

  • Miranda Housden is ICE South West director. View the film on the ICE’s YouTube channel

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