Interesting article from the Engineer By Stephen Harris
The stark contrast between the public estimation of architects and engineers in Britain is a reminder of the widespread lack of understanding of what engineers do.
An architect is typically seen as a highly educated and skilled professional making great contributions to civilisation through their mixture of creativity, flair for design and technical understanding. An engineer, if not thought to be boiler fixer, is relegated to the position of someone who makes other people’s great ideas happen.
But from the second half of the twentieth century, the line between the two professions was blurred somewhat by architectural movements that saw a building’s form follow its function and where design was guided and advanced by the adoption of new construction materials and techniques.
The “high-tech” or “industrial” style began as a radical and sometimes controversial way of thinking about buildings but has become one of the world’s dominant architectural approaches to creating public and commercial buildings.
Characterised by a prominent exposure of a building’s structural and functional components and the use of pre-fabricated elements such as steel frames, glass panels and supporting cables, the high-tech style can be seen in buildings from the Gherkin in London and the Centre Pompidou in Paris, to the Burj al-Arab in Dubai and the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong.
The movement is now being reassessed by a new exhibition and TV show (the first episode of which was broadcast last night), which not only highlight the role of British architects in creating and spreading the high-tech style, but also pay some long overdue recognition to the crucial role of engineering in its formation and practice.
The architects covered by The Brits Who Built The Modern World, who include Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Nicholas Grimshaw, were both inspired by engineers and the technology they produced and often worked with them from the very beginnings of a project.1
‘None of [the key features of high-tech architecture] come about except by close collaboration between engineers and architects right from inception,’ says Tristram Carfrae, chair of Arup’s global buildings practice and a structural engineer who has worked on many high-tech buildings including the Lloyds building in London, the HSBC building in Hong Kong and the National Aquatic Centre in Beijing.
‘This is about architects and engineers sitting down and talking to each other about what are our potential ambitions working together, what are the opportunities and how can we approach this project before anyone gets a pen out and starts drawing anything. It comes from a philosophical position not an aesthetic position.’
In practice, this often means designing the shape of a building or building element to follow the limitations of a particular material or engineering principle. For example, the Schlumberger Cambridge Research building designed by Michael and Patricia Hopkins comprises a Teflon-coated glass-fibre membrane suspended from a steel superstructure – essentially a giant tent.
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