Filed under: Engineering | Tags: architecture, Arup, engineering, NGO, Rolls-Royce
When I was in sixth form (decades ago), the world was divided into two halves: the self-regarding arts-subjects crowd, who listened to indie and talked about films and sexual politics, and the geeky science-subject crowd, who were into gaming and Terry Pratchett and needed a shower. I’ll leave you to guess which crowd I was in.
The cool arts crowd thought that science was boring, maths was pointless, and engineering was some sort of soul-death – alongside accountancy, or business studies. But some of the most interesting companies I’ve worked with in the last year are engineering companies – the kind of clients you don’t get in advertising. Why are they interesting? Engineers solve problems, at scale – and there are some interesting NGOs putting this to good use:
- Engineering for Change (E4C) https://www.engineeringforchange.org is “community of engineers, technologists, social scientists, NGOs, local governments and community advocates whose mission is to improve quality of life in communities around the world”
- Engineers Without Borders http://www.ewb-international.org dedicated to “improving the quality of life of disadvantaged communities worldwide through education and implementation of sustainable engineering projects, while promoting new dimensions of experience for engineers”
- Engineers Against Poverty http://www.engineersagainstpoverty.org has been set up in the belief that “Science, Engineering, Technology and Innovation (SETI) plays a critical role in meeting the challenges of sustainable development and poverty reduction.”
My newest client is Arup – their strapline is We Shape A Better World. They’re an independent partnership of designers and engineers, doing what they call “total architecture” – i.e., don’t just look at the building, but the entire system it’s a part of. They’ve built some iconic buildings – the Sydney Opera House, the “Bird’s Nest Stadium”, the Water Cube, and London’s Gherkin. In Beijing is one of the most extraordinary buildings I’ve ever seen – the gravity-defying, earthquake proof China TV HQ. Designed by Rem Koolhaas, built by Arup:
Arup’s founder Ove Arup gave what’s called the Key Speech: in it he says that success comes from the pursuit of quality, with profit as a by-product. A couple of things he says that I love:
“The trouble with money is that it is a dividing force, not a uniting force, as is the quest for quality or a humanitarian outlook”.
“I can’t see the point in having such a large firm with offices all over the world unless there is something which binds us together… The idea of somebody in London ‘owning’ all these businesses and hiring people to bring in the dough doesn’t seem very inspiring. Unless we have… something ‘higher’ to strive for… unless we feel that we have a special contribution to make which our very size and diversity and our whole outlook can help to achieve, I for one am not interested”.
It’s one of the most interesting clients I’ve ever had – yet of course it has a low profile because engineering isn’t sexy. Mark Henderson’s new book The Geek Manifesto puts forward a good case that science is under represented in public life – only one of the UK’s 650 MPs is a scientist, for example. He gave a good RSA talk here.
Rolls-Royce is another engineering firm we’ve worked with. It’s the world’s leading jet engine maker: a strange client for someone who made a fairly hard-hitting ad for Plane Stupid. Strange until you realise that engineering is part of the answer: their most recent engine is 12% more fuel efficient than the last one. Their target is to cut emissions by 50% per passenger mile.
Plenty of sixth formers will tell you they want to make a difference – but their idea of how to do this join an NGO or volunteer in Africa. All good – but it’s strange how low down the list science and engineering comes. Lucy had the idea of taking a bunch of sixth formers into Rolls-Royce to see the high-value precision engineering. The result was this short film, below – it’s lovely to see their reaction.
4 Comments so far
Leave a comment