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Future of Design North 2015: Part 2

Future of Design North 2015: Part 2

If you haven’t heard of the IABSE Future of Design events (then you should at least read the first post of this two-parter)- they’re a series of conferences aimed at celebrating and sharing the best of (structural) design. This year saw the first FoD outside of London; venturing up to Manchester to enjoy the famous rain.

This is the second half of my highlights from the FoD North 2015; however I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t draw your attention to some important omissions. First- the networking, unlike any other engineering conference I’ve been to- the crowd is (relatively) young, and incredibly enthusiastic. Second- the day ended with a fantastic meal in the Museum of Science & Industry, with a fun live band. And last, but not least- the day after there was a walking tour of the bridges, culminating in two specially arranged bridge lifts; where else would you get that? 

Chris Wise (Expedition)

Science makes our ideas conform to the world; engineering moulds our world to conform to our ideas.

If ever an engineer is to win the “best Steve Jobs” impersonation; it’s going to be Chris Wise. From the turtleneck, to the effortless presentation style- putting the artist back into technology. Wise started off with a look at the struggles of collaboration; tabling the view that the tendency to collaborate is inversely proportional to familiarity with the solution. Continuing to echo some of the themes of the day; he reiterated that engineers should make the end-users the “designers”- clients are a means to an end.

The latter half of Wise’s presentation looked at his theories of the different styles of engineering-minds. Beginning with a look at the specialist/generalist divide, Wise suggested that the best teams were formed of people who had a strong specialism while maintaining a broad enough foundation to interface with others; voicing a concern that rewarding specialism reduces those who can take a step-back and guide projects as a whole.

Finishing with an exercise to determine what sort of ‘design mind’ you have. Wise guided the audience through a series of questions (try it here yourself) that eventually declared you either an artist- someone who finds it easy to create, but doesn’t care for the detail; an artisan who find it hard to start but seek perfection on what they do; or a philosopher who seeks meaning. Urging us to take note, Wise warned against the challenges of trying to ‘think’ against your grain; recommending instead, to find a complementary team. 

Young Designers

It’s always fascinating (if not a little envy inducing) to hear what designer’s my age are up to.

Giulia Evelina Fenci (University of Salford), Christopher Bevington (Amey), Ben Luckin (AECOM), Jagvinder Singh (AECOM), Karl James (Parsons Brinckerhoff), Devaraja Rajan (Ramboll)

Where would a conference called the “future of design” be without a young designers competition? Here, twelve promising designers take to stage to share some of the exciting and innovative work they’ve been doing! Because the room splits, I’m only able to share the six I saw; but no doubt the other half were just as engaging!

Fenchi started us off by sharing how she used the blooming flower to influence the design of a minimum-deployment energy ‘unfolding’ fabric structure by applying parametric/holistic optimisation across the time-steps. Bevington talked us through his work at Chorley Tunnel and its flying arches; listed and ornate props that needed to be lifted as part of electrification works. His was a story of unexpected expectations; learning the thought process of English Heritage, who were much more interested in retaining the elements, than their position or behaviour.

Luckin shared his experience designing twelve themed bridges for Chester Zoo– explaining the difficulties of designing a ‘broken’ bridge that was still safe; or a DDA compliant rope swing bridge! Singh returned us to the northern hub to talk through his BIM experience; it’s not 3D modelling- it’s about intelligence; pointing more towards model federation and point clouds than just the third dimension.

James provided us with some impressive Excel wizardry– showing how he’d taken the strut and tie method to a new level; investigating the effects of concrete damage on the reinforcement of deck beams. Rajan finished off with the impressive demonstration that undertaking a proper nonlinear critical moment finite element analysis was enough to improve the ultimate LTB capacity of plate girder bridges by 25% (45% at the midspan). 

Discussion Panel

As it turns out, engineering doesn’t want quotas for women in the boardroom; but does it need it?

Tom Wallace (WSP), Lee Franck (Arup), Alison Watson (Class of Your Own)

Unexpectedly the panel this year included, well, me. Perhaps even more surprising was that the topic was about quotas for women on the board. I was impressed to learn that some countries have been implementing a 20% policy to help increase diversity at the top. I think this is important, and so took the (unpopular, it turns out) view that engineering should do the same.

The against (and vote winning) argument was that engineers should be promoted on their merit; and that such positive discrimination would breed distrust and lack of respect. The majority of the floor felt that the reason for the significant imbalance in upper management was primarily due to the low number of women entering the profession in the first place, augmented by historically bad equality policies.

The for (a side I reluctantly picked from a more Swiss-neutral) focused on the effects of unconscious bias; noting that an injection of women (who are all likely to be capable in any case) into positions where they could influence change were more likely to alter the status quo and accelerate the process. After all, anyone with a touch of game theory knows that a system rarely increases in entropy if only those who win get to pick the rules. 

Alison Watson (Class of Your Own)

A STEM initiative that gets the students excited enough to spend their weekends doing it has got to be a good thing.

Luke Steedman, Bradley Lees, Luke Chantler, and Craig Vevers (St Ambrose Barlow RC High School)

Now to what has to be the youngest speakers ever at an IABSE conference; and more literally the future of design. Class of Your Own is an amazing initiative to get school children interested into the profession- and teach the teachers too. It starts (this year) with a fantastic premise; James Bond has got a BIM model of a London underground station he wants to change into a hotel- however he is surprisingly hot on sustainability and also insists that the result engages the local community.

The presentation was great; hearing how the students had taken “special agent saturdays” to develop their Revit model solution; gadgets, solar panels, wind turbines, fish tanks, dark and secretive corners and even a casio. Counting as vocational UCAS credits, the course exploits the affinity that younger generations have with software to provide an entry point into what can be a fairly opaque industry. Now looking for paid work experience; I wish them, and the initiative, all the best. 

Robin Sham (AECOM)

If the tools aren’t up to the job; can you design better ones?

Sham is certainly the the speaker who has traveled the furthest (I’ve seen) to talk at a Future of Design; but I’m glad he did. I’ve never seen an engineer with so many record breaking projects under their belt! His presentation looked at some of these, including the ‘third generation’ of suspension bridge; where two separate decks are held by a central cable system. There’s a huge number of articles on this, all of which explain it so much better than I ever could.

Of course, you don’t get a career like this with constantly innovating; both design and construction methods. I was particularly impressed with the development of a ‘lean and mean’ travelling formwork to extend the cantilever lengths- I can’t imagine ever asking a contractor to use custom plant! Looking to the future of design, Sham sees eco-bridges; where fibers in the surfacing provide enough energy to power the bridge; as well as developments in approaches to reach even longer spans (such as crossing-cables!).

Xavier De Kestelier (Foster + Partners)

Following my first Future of Design, I managed to wing a trip to meet someone following a similar career path to me (that’s how good the networking is). After having a chat, I stood up to leave and swung my backpack on, cutting off a model astronaut behind me at the knees. Unable to flee the scene, and witnessed by a group of students touring the office- it goes down as one of the most embarrassing things I’ve done in a professional capacity. Guess what that model was of… – Ed.

In 3D printing- geometry comes for free; no problems with complex, efficient, shapes.

Possibly only Foster’s could be commissioned to undertake something as beautifully esoteric as a project to build a lunar base. So how do you design for conditions where it cost you £2000/kg in transportation, the outside temperature ranges from +160 to -160 degrees celsius, there are high levels of radiation, and every now and again a meteorite comes and hits you. By using 3D printing, of course.

Delivered in flat packed modules; our settlers receive a 3D printer’mobile and inflatable membrane. Once pressurized the robots use the only natural resource; lunar rocks- to form blocks with a light, bone-like, microstructure. Like an igloo, the thick shell shields and insulates from the external environment, providing resistance to the gamma radiation and meteorite strikes; while an air gap for insulation. If you’re thinking about settling the moon any time soon; check out the video.

And there it is; the Future of Design North 2015. It was a fantastic event, and I would urge you to attend the next one, when it’s announced. For those of you who can’t wait, tickets for the ‘South’/London one are already on sale for September 2015. I’ll be there- and what other reason do you need?

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