Architecture. Meet Beautiful Engineering

By Neil Smith

27 April 2015

Earlier this year, architect Ken Shuttleworth stood in front of a group of engineers at the CIBSE Awards dinner and branded members of his own profession as 'arrogant' and 'egotistical'.

With tongue firmly in cheek, his outburst went down a treat with a well-lubricated audience of building services and environmental engineers. It gathered a lot of outraged comment in the press, either genuine or mock outrage depending on your point-of-view. But I think Ken's point was that architects and engineers have to work more closely and equally to deliver the shared goal of better buildings - buildings that work.

Max Fordham and the Architects Journal brought six experts together to discuss 'beautiful engineering' at the RIBA. I was fortunate to share the round table with the likes of Jim Heverin from ZHA, Grimshaw's Andrew Whalley, structural engineers Les Postawa from Thornton Tomasetti and Jane Wernick, as well as my colleague Hareth Pochee. This is the third in our Round Table series.

There's broad agreement that we achieve better results when architects and engineers collaborate early in the design process. But why is such a distinction made between the two in the first place. Hareth contends that we are all designers - we all use science to design things. Science isn't just equations and formulas. It is reasoning as well, and architects are excellent in the application of reasoning to the design of buildings.

I worked closely with Les Postawa from Thorton Tomasetti and the team from Zaha Hadid on MAXXI, the Museum of 21st Century Art in Rome. That kind of relationship begins with a clear understanding of what we are all trying to achieve. Our engineering is reacting and responding to the architecture, and in a similar way ZHA's architecture is doing likewise for the art. What we end up with is beautiful engineering discreetly employed in wonderful architecture that elevates the artwork.

Ken Shuttleworth labelled his architectural cohort 'arrogant and egotistical' with a big grin on his face. But we work hard for a genuinely collaborative relationship with everyone on the design team, clients and contractors alike. We firmly believe that if Max Fordham can be involved in a project earlier in the design process and later, post-completion, we achieve better results.

You can read the 'Beautiful Engineering' Round Table here. You'll also find the previous editions on 'Sustainability' and 'Collaboration' on the same page. I hope you enjoy!


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