Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Total architecture pioneer Povl Ahm dies at 78


POVL AHM, the engineer who established Arup as a firm of civil as well as structural engineers, died 10 days ago aged 78 after a long fight against cancer.

Ahm moved to the UK from his native Denmark to join Ove Arup soon after his graduation from Copenhagen's Polyteknisk Læreanstalt in 1949.

His first job was as structural designer for the new Coventry Cathedral, followed by early conceptual design studies for the Sydney Opera House.

He shared Ove Arup's passion for pushing the boundaries of structural engineering, and of integrating structural with architectural design - something Arup dubbed 'total architecture'.

But Ahm also passionately believed that it was the responsibility of engineers to 'use their skills for the common good', said former colleague and Arup director Jorgen Nissen. He applied to civil engineering the same approach to integrating aesthetics with structure that can be seen in Arup-designed buildings.

'I worked for him for a number of years, ' said Arup chairman Terry Hill. 'He was the person who showed me the potential of applying the Arup approach in the civils world - bringing design and delivery to a much higher level than then prevailing in the UK.

'He saw that things [infrastructure] weren't just functional but a delight, ' recalled Hill. Ahm also set out to address social and environmental issues as part of the civil engineering process.

Hill said that Ahm was a charismatic and natural leader, with huge reserves of drive.

'He pushed me and made me hungry.' Ahm also showed impressive belief in his own decisions and those of his colleagues. 'He drove us to take the position we did on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link when it ran into trouble, ' Hill said. 'There was a period when we had to convince people of the alignment. Povl operated at the highest levels within British Rail and government and persuaded Arup to stand firm. He was a great tower of strength.' Many of the qualities that made Ahm such an asset to Arup shone outside his career in civil engineering, said Nissen.

He was a keen footballer and played as a goalkeeper for the London-based Corinthian Casuals, competing in the 1956 Amateur Cup Finals at Wembley.

Ahm rose swiftly through Arup's ranks: He was made an associate partner in 1956 and was taken into full partnership in 1965. When the practice became a company in 1977 he was made a director, and he was chairman from 1989 until he retired in 1992.

He was also an active Institution member, serving on ICE Council from 1972 to 1975 and 1983 to 1986. Ahm was vice chairman of engineering disaster relief charity RedR from 1989 to 1993. And as chair of the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) client-consultant relationship committee from 1981 to 1986, he kicked off work on the Guide to the Client-Consultant Model Services Agreement, now the standard contractual reference.

Ahm was on the Association of Consulting Engineers (now the Association of Consultancy & Engineering) council from 1987 to 1992 and its chairman 1992 to 1996.

Ahm's contributions to engineering were officially recognised in 1981, when he became a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. He was awarded a CBE in June 1993 and won the first Gold medal of the Institution of Civil Engineers the same year.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.