I am a structural engineer. In conventional, professional terms, I make buildings stand without the use of excessive materials. If an engineer can influence the form of a building and how it is built, material is deployed in the correct areas of need creating value. Engineers must have a recognised voice within the dialogue between the client and the architect early in the process. This book is about locating that voice and the capacity to participate with conviction by listening to others, communicating inner thought processes with clarity, and in concert with drawing. Capturing on paper what an engineer plays with in their head, what they experience—as they predict and rehearse the flow of forces—and how they explore multiple facets of the solutions as they occur, strengthens the discipline of design. Co-creation is the key to this activity and this book is about promoting co-creation in others.
The sketches within this volume are in my own hand, capturing my inner thoughts as well as those of others around me. They were drawn in an instant to form a point of consensus and augment a conversation. I cannot—and do not want to—claim these marks solely as designs of my own ideation. Only to present the notion that by capturing the thought at a single point in time by drawing, it may have helped people work together—often creating something important that would otherwise have been lost.
In writing this book I have realised that there are certain key collaborators who let me—an engineer—speak in an unconventional way. It is the work that I have produced with them that I have used to illustrate this book. They understood the value in having diverse views form the final results. They were confident enough and interested enough to let co-creation happen. I am very thankful that they did. I wonder if this has something to do with the era of what became known as hi-tech, which was very strong in the UK between the late ‘60s and late ‘80s. They were following the lead from influencers such as Buckminster Fuller, Jean Prouvé, Mies van der Rohe, architects who sought simplicity in the expression of materials celebrating how structural loads were channeled to the ground within the fabric of the building. Group Four was born and spawned practices that advocated hi-tech. Architects such as Sir Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Michael and Patty Hopkins, and Nick Grimshaw flourished, well supported by engineers who were given important roles in forming buildings, and where technology was expressed in the architecture. Engineers such as Ove Arup, Felix Samuelly and Anthony Hunt supported the movement. BuroHappold joined in and extended the tendency when formed in 1976. This was the world I entered into in 1973, keen to take advantage of it.
Engineers are not formally taught or trained in the value of the imprecise. So I thought a book like this might encourage creative, young people to access another aspect of engineering, giving them an outlet for the imagination; a part of their psyche that does not rely on mathematical ability or precise calculation. Perhaps it could open their eyes to an alternative, creative sphere of engineering and encourage people who have the ability to communicate ideas using visual means, and who are not fulfilled by the use of abstract mathematical principles and analysis alone.
We set about finding old sketches that hadn’t ended up in the bin and began piecing together the story of one structural engineer amongst many, who found a way to bridge the world of creative architecture with creative technical engineering. And in collaborating with many others, helped make a few good things happen.
London, August 2020