Mon, 05 Sep 2016
Engineers and Architects

Ove Arup, engineer, architect and designer, called the way he worked "Total Design". He meant to express the importance of the engineer, as well as the architect and designer in the the task of construction, whether opera houses, penguin pools or bridges. Total Design is the sub-title of Engineering the World at the V&A.

The exhibition takes place in what appears to be a big meccano set, which is perhaps fitting. The framework is actually made up of (so called) gerberettes: a suspended beam and a short propped cantilever. This design was used for the Centre Pompidou in Paris, an Arup engineering building.

Early work included the Penguin Pool at London Zoo (see left). Designed by Berthold Lubetkin and Arup in 1935. Complicated to build, and the V&A shows off some handwritten maths working it all out to prove it.

During the war, Arup worked on air-raid shelter design and also a component of a floating harbour used at D-Day. Some of his air-raid shelter designs were to protect a lot of people underground. Post war, he suggested they could be used for car parking.

On the left, the street level is at the top of the image.

This is not the sort of show I'd normally visit but it was very interesting. Ove Arup was a Dane (although born in Newcastle) who moved to the UK in his 20's and spent the rest of his life here. He studied philosophy first in Copenhagen before starting on engineering and as the show states, he formulated his own philosophy, something he called "Total Design": the architect and the engineer should be the closest collaborators from the start.

It is strange to think that the usual way of working in his early days was for the architect to produce designs with no input or thought to the engineering. Consider Jørn Utzon's design of the Sydney Opera House, little more than rough sketches originally. Many thought the design was impossible to build, and indeed changes were needed. But Utzon, Arup and his team managed to do it (against quite a few odds).

On the right, a Pegasus Mark 1 computer from 1957.

The mathematical calculations used to design the London Zoo Penguin Pool are on show, the long-hand mathematical scrawls hopefully correct, and hopefuly keeping everything in order. Computers started being used in the early sixties and made an immediate impact. Arup was a funny and engaging character and we can listen to a speech he delivered in 1967 as a "christening" of a computer he called "Mumbo Jumbo" (a funny acronym actually). "Mumbo" or "Mum" for short :

When in trouble come to Mum, Mum will do your little sum.

These early computers are large cabinet sized things, greatly superceded now by the smartphone in your pocket. Note the 1960's analog clock on its side.

We can see some of the company's current work on London's Crossrail, as well as a window into its software development, such as crowd simulation or air flow. The Pegasus 1 would have you waiting a long time for results to these sort of equations (to say nothing of the amazing visualisations we now have). We also have a Soundlab room that lets us see and hear work done to simulate and improve the acoustics of buildings: not just theatres but railway station platforms.

Arup the company is still going strong, but the man himself died in 1988.

Ove Arup, 1895-1988