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Past tense


I was surprised to hear of plans by the ICE to start consultations about a possible merger with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (NCE 12 May). At a time when intradisciplinary cooperation within civil engineering is virtually non-existent, inter-disciplinary dialogue can only serve to distract from efforts to achieve civil engineering harmony.

It is also disappointing to hear leading civil engineers look back to the past as an inspiration to the future. In particular, the lecture by Patricia Galloway (immediate past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers) at the ICE last month called for greater cooperation between civil engineers and engineers from other disciplines, and reminded the audience of the common ancestry of civil and mechanical engineers. She and others also look to scientists who are represented by one voice (both in the UK and USA) while engineers have their own individual institutions.

It seems to me as a practising civil engineer specialising in soil mechanics that engineering leaders live on a different planet or in a different age!

First, engineers are distinguished from scientists by the practicality of their approach. When engineers start theorising, we lose our most important distinguishing mark.

Civil engineers and mechanical engineers are separated because of practical need.

Secondly, at a time when the interaction between geotechnical and structural engineers, for example, is at best confrontational and about passing blame, talking to our mechanical cousins about a merger is simply out of place and of little tangible benefit.

The civil engineering profession should concentrate its efforts on ensuring brotherly and friendly relationships between the emerging, distinct disciplines of civil engineering which, within decades, will probably have formed their own compartmentalised institutions, if indeed they have not already done so.

We should look to the future, presenting a strong, coherent front, and not look back at our common history with the mechanical engineers.

Ghanem M Nuseibeh

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