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Letters: Less haste, more paper and paste for engineers

The main point

Paper project archway

The St Paul’s School project promoted design in engineering

What an inept comparison Bruce Laitimer appears to be making (Letters 11 June). Has he not heard of learning to walk before you can run?

Turning newspaper and paste, admittedly in my teaching experience at primary school level, into tubular, triangulated frameworks of some considerable strength, for the first time, is enlightening. Leave the funny shapes, whoever dreams them up, for an engineer to then analyse with the help of thousands of hours on a computer, until later.

  • David Marshall (F), 3 Burlington House, Kings Road, Richmond, Surrey, TW10 6NW

As one of the organizers of the St Paul’s School activity to which Bruce Latimer refers in his letter (NCE 11 June), I would like to assure Latimer that aesthetic considerations were a fundamental part of the school visit.

The event stemmed from the Paper Project in Birmingham, which was conceived to showcase engineering ingenuity, creativity and design awareness by using entirely recycled materials to create public sculptures ( The project will continue to develop sculpture and art installations over the summer.

The project has had great interest from the architectural and design press (NCE 4 June), all contributing towards its intention of publicly demonstrating that engineers are perfectly placed to marry functional design with aesthetic considerations.

At the school, the morning’s events highlighted the aesthetic component of engineering design during an introductory presentation, later using recycled newspaper to construct trussed arches spanning 3m in a minimal-cost, practical activity that was approached with immense enthusiasm by the students.

Those present at the school had their prejudices challenged, and saw that if attractive and functional design is required, engineers must be at the heart of the process.

  • James Thomson,


Not the only dome of its day

The Edinburgh Sports Dome in Malvern

The Edinburgh Sports Dome in Malvern

I was interested to read your news item in NCE 11 June. I worked for Norwest Holst on Parashell projects. The Malvern structure is not the only surviving example of its type in the UK. The Sports Dome at Mildenhall, Suffolk is similar.

Very low slump concrete and not liquid cement was used. The structure as formed using the inflated formwork has vertical walls at the springing. At Malvern these were removed and the inclined columns added using conventional formwork.

The building was not completed two weeks after inflation as construction of the columns and removal of the ring beam foundation was messy. The foundation is an integral part of the construction technique, giving resistance to uplift during inflation and acting as a normal foundation on completion. John Faber appeared briefly on a film Norwest Holst made to publicise the technique and may have been employed by the client.

Norwest Holst were the contractors and structural designers. The construction technique was perhaps the selling point but Malvern is not a good example of its use. At Mildenhall very few alterations have been made to the “as formed” structure and it is a better example of the construction method.

  • John Dodson (M)

The battle is on

Apart from flood control, there is a great deal of talk about providing for climate change but very little about what change to provide what for. What there is appears, by inference, to equate such provisions to preventing carbon gases entering the atmosphere.

This is quite wrong, even mischievous, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Earth System Research paper Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in the US states: “Climate change is unstoppable − and even if carbon emission was cut totally, there would be no response before 3000”.

The climate change in Britain is unlikely to parallel that of global warming, whatever is understood by that. Doubtless flood control is one aspect already needing attention, but our climate depends on the strength and location of the gulf stream, sometimes referred to as (part of) the Mid-Atlantic Drift. The strength of this is decreasing.

A report in Nature 2001 indicates that the flow of cold dense water from the Norwegian and Greenland Seas had diminished by at least 20% since 1950. The Gulf Stream is said to have stopped for 10 days during November 2004 and there are indications that it is dividing with one part moving westwards to account for unfreezing the North West passage.

Thus one tenable hypothesis is that Britain will suffer cold winters, whatever happens in the summer. The first precaution whether against both warming or cooling, is to make sure we have abundant energy to provide for cooling and water during droughts and for heating and water during icing. That is where the priority lies.

  • Godfrey Ackers (F),

Mixing it up

All this talk of light rail or guided busways in Cambridgeshire, or elsewhere for that matter (LewisLesley’s letter 11 June), seems unnecessary.

Surely we now need to be thinking about a dedicated busway, running on a track comprising normal road construction, and using normal buses without any guidance features. They could be single track with passing places, with appropriate railway type signalling, or in busy areas, double track.

It is just a case of extending city bus lanes into the countryside, using old railway lines wherever they are available, or new routes, wherever they are not. I am sure this would be cheaper, more flexible and just as effective as guided busways. A mixture of bus and railway operations seems a logical development of current thinking.

  • Tim Shillam, 88 Portland Place, London W1B 1NX

What happens?

That time of the year has arrived again, the voting of General Members to the Council. Every year I am determined to use my vote, to read what people stand for, what they aim to achieve on Council and to make a vote which will influence the correct choice of Members.

However every year the aspirations of the candidates resound with a certain familiarity, “promotion of the industry”, “the development of engineers”, “pursue sustainability” “encourage young people” − you get the idea.

Whilst I’m not arguing against the need for these requirements, once a Member is elected to Council, then what really happens? How can I see that person achieving all of their election statements? How many meetings do they attend? Are they a good Council member, or a mediocre member? How are each of them held to account?

Now, if a person was standing for election on the basis that they will update the Members about what they are doing during their Council tenure, and when they stand down how they really made a difference, then they would get my vote every time.

  • John Campbell (M), design manager, Rail Parsons Brinckerhoff, camp

A sign of the times

Roundabout lorry sign

Road signage in the UK is not always logical

In the UK, a vehicle travelling around a roundabout would exhibit a lateral force (with consequential load shedding) to the left hand side, indicating mutually inconsistent signing.

Any one sign could be corrected to comply with the laws of physics − the lower sign could read “Increase speed now”, the middle sign could be re-drawn or the roundabout circulation direction changed. Perhaps one sign could be removed?

  • David M Johnson,

Where are the UK students?

I was lucky enough to graduate in the same class as NCE contect editor Mark Hansford and I am now a director of a small but successful consultancy specialising in rail, highways and temporary works.

We recently advertised for a graduate engineer in 9 of the top universities offering a salary of £19k plus bonus and full support towards CPR. I sat back pleased to be putting something back into the industry and waited for a deluge of applications.

We did not receive one application from a European student and will be interviewing a Malaysian applicant early in July. Was the salary too low? With bonus the graduate should earn a salary in the low twenties in their first year?

Was the training not up to scratch, we have two engineers sitting their CPR in October? Or were all the British and European students sitting in the student bar getting hammered and moaning about how they couldn’t find a job whilst those from overseas got on their bike and made an effort?

  • Martin Cure BCS Design Ltd,

Your views & opinion

NCE welcomes letters from readers. We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.

The Editor, NCE,
1st Floor, Greater
London House,
Hampstead Road,
London NW1 7EJ

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