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RIBA stranglehold on bridge competitions challenged


BRIDGE DESIGN competitions should be organised and run by the ICE, not the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), leading bridge designers said this week.


RIBA-run competitions consistently produced solutions which failed to give value for money, they said.


And they pointed to recently reported problems with Salford’s Trinity Bridge as an example of what happens when architecture dominates bridge design (NCE 2 March).


Atkins head of structural engineering Mike Otlet said that with judging panels dominated by architects ‘the only way to get their attention is to go for ever more outlandish and extreme designs. Value for money is rarely considered.’ He added: ‘Our preferred option would be for engineering-led panels with some architectural input.’ Clients are ‘too easily seduced by pretty pictures’, according to Flint & Neill partner Ian Firth. ‘Without specialist engineering advice from the outset, clients can develop unrealistic expectations as to what they can get for their budget, ’ he said.


The call for greater ICE involvement in bridge design competitions was also backed by ICE Structures & Building Board chairman John Lane.


A trial RIBA/ICE competition for the new Wear Crossing at Sunderland was held last year, although ICE’s involvement was local and involved seconding two engineers to the eight man judging panel assembled by RIBA. The project has still not had funding confirmed.


Lane, who is structures engineer to the Rail Safety & Standards Board, said: ‘The only way to get a sensible bridge that can be built and maintained properly is to put an engineer in charge.


‘There is no reason in principle why the ICE shouldn’t offer to organise bridge design competitions, although we would probably need a new panel of independent bridge experts to run them. Architects would be invited to take part - but engineers would lead.’ Lane said he would suggest such a move to the ICE in the near future. Any such development would be very welcome to UK bridge engineers.


Gifford technical director Peter Curran also agrees that the ICE should play a much greater role in bridge design competitions.


‘We need a debate on how such competitions should be organised and rewarded. On smaller bridges in particular the effort involved in winning is not proportionate to the reward.’ And Expedition Engineering director Chris Wise, who designed London’s controversial Millennium Bridge, said it was ‘pathetic that ICE has sat back and let RIBA take the lead in bridge design’.

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