REVOLUTIONARY: A model of the Sydney Opera House at the V&A exhibition
IS ENGINEERING design an art form? It would seem so, judging by a new exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum which pays tribute to “the 20th century’s greatest engineer, Ove Arup (1895-1988)”.
Arup, who was born in England but was of Danish origin, established his engineering firm in 1946. The firm has been responsible for many landmark projects, including the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Lloyds Building in London, and Kansai airport in Osaka on a manmade island.
One of Arup’s most high-profile projects was the Sydney Opera House, whose design was considered revolutionary because of its distinctive curved arches. A British metallurgist, Prof WD Biggs, invented special, heat- treated bolts and rivets that were strong enough to be used on the structure.
Seeing the models and cross-sections of the Sydney Opera House at the V&A brought back fond memories of Dr Biggshe was my “moral tutor” at college. He told his wards he did not want undergraduates to waste their time solely on academic work – “I don’t want you scurrying in and out of the woodwork”.
A legend in the world of metals, Dr Biggs claimed he had strengthened the bolts for Australia “by dipping them in the pee of a red-headed boy”.
Present at the exhibition was Arup’s current vice-chairman Tristram Carfrae, who said Arup’s “pioneering philosophy of total design” decreed that architects, designers and engineers should work together on any project right from the start.
“The V&A is a museum of design and for me it is fantastically important and wonderful they recognise engineering as a part of design,” Carfrae told me.
“Engineers are also creative; engineers also have to solve problems to which there are an infinite number of solutions and choose which ones are the most appropriate.”