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'Soft' degree course subjects stifle creativity say top engineers

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'SOFT' SUBJECTS like management and sustainability are stifling efforts to nurture creative graduate engineers, leading structures experts said this week.

Leading structural engineer and Arup deputy chairman Cecil Balmond warned that the lack of emphasis on design in degree courses was stifl ing creativity after graduation.

In comparison, architects are trained to be more imaginative, he said.

'Architectural schools are going beyond engineering [schools]? The curriculum set for engineers should be wider - especially for structural engineers - they need to understand architecture'.

He added that the learning environment for architecture courses encouraged students to be more widely read than engineers later on in life.

Balmond has worked on numerous cutting edge engineering projects including the China Central Television building in Beijng and Anish Kapoor's huge Marsyas fabric sculpture for the Tate Modern (see feature P18).

He is also the engineer behind this year's Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London's Hyde Park.

This year's design takes the form of a balloon structure floating over the main steel framed building.

UK civil and structural engineering degrees are accredited by the Joint Board of Moderators (JBM). Its chairman and former IStructE chairman John Hill shared Balmond's concerns.

'The difficulty universities face is that so many things have to be included now - management, contractual issues, health and safety and the environment - which eat into the core time.

Some of the things considered to be the fundamentals are now being reduced'.

He added that there was limited emphasis on 'building up and understanding structural analysis from classical theory' as computer analysis has become more prominent.

Hill welcomed Balmond's comments. He said it was essential to get industry feedback so that engineering courses can be reshaped.

But he warned that architectural courses risked being skewed the opposite way: 'architecture isn't based on analysis - they learn first to be imaginative and later learn about costs, complying with building regs and keeping the rain out'.

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