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Wise takes on 'preaching' Egan

CHRIS WISE, the UK's leading structural engineer, this week warned that Sir John Egan's industry reforms were smothering engineering creativity and flying in the face of attempts to improve the profession's status.

He said that by 'preaching' cost reduction and standardisation, Egan was hindering engineers from demonstrating their true skills - producing innovative and efficient designs.

'My ambition is to get to the point where the general public actually understands what an engineer does,' said Wise. 'Egan is going in the opposite direction. The reality is that he celebrates the process and not the product.'

His comments came as he told NCE about his decision to leave Ove Arup at the end of July. 'Now, instead of having to be corporately polite about Egan's report and ideas, I can make my point in another way.'

The criticisms are yet another high profile lashing for Egan's report after environmental guru Jonathan Porritt hit out at the report's failure to address environmental sustainability issues last November (NCE 17 November 1998).

Wise described the report's attempts to introduce widespread standardisation into design as 'patronising'. 'I've worked with BAA and seen the Egan process from the inside,' said Wise, and I resent having people preach to me about how to design something.'

Wise accepted that there were many good ideas within the Egan report, such as its concentration on partnership. However, he said that by emphasising component and modular design 'Egan singularly misses the point that some people are actually very good at particular things', and should not be made to operate in a formulaic way.

He added: 'Anyway, we were doing component-based design on Frankfurt's Commerzbank building five years before Egan jumped on the bandwagon. It's patronising for Egan to preach to people with our experience.'

Demonstration projects also missed the fundamental point of what the industry should be trying to show and learn, he said. 'The problem with Egan is that it is heavily client driven and so is trying to drag the industry along with it,' he said.

'You have got to put yourself in the mind of the user and focus on total investment in a project. The definition of the budget is still too short term.'

The emphasis, he said, should be on encouraging clients to differentiate between cost and value and spend money more during the design stage at the start of the project. More often, he added, clients set the budget and then set the brief.

Now free from Arup, Wise said he was 'keen to raise the perception of engineers within society'. He said the media was crying out for someone to put engineering into a language people could understand and would be working with TV, radio and print to 'demystify the way that engineers work'.

He also intends to spend more time developing his design ideas, which would probably still involve structural design but would also spill into industrial and furniture work and even sculpture.

'I believe there is not much difference between engineering and other creative fields,' he said. 'You still have to have a creative idea and then make it happen.'

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