Published: 17 November 2014
Above: The Living Planet Centre, Woking. Winner of the Award for Education or Healthcare Structures.
The Structural Awards, which took place on 14 November in London, are held annually to celebrate innovation and excellence in the global structural engineering profession. Tristram Hope has been a member of the Awards judging panel for five years. Here he talks us through the judging process and discusses this year’s winners.
Sitting on the Structural Awards judging panel is a really rewarding experience. In fact, of the various activities I undertake on behalf of The Institution of Structural Engineers, it is probably my favourite. It is also helpful for me commercially, as I work as a freelance structural engineer, so reviewing Awards entries helps me keep up to speed with the latest in global design.
Judging is a sociable, stressful and satisfying experience all at the same time. Sometimes we disagree, but not frequently, as the excellence of an entry is usually self-evident. That said, there is certainly a good deal of debate and we would not (and should not) be on the judging team if we were not passionate about what we do.
As judges we look for outstanding technical skill in the design and construction of an entry; we also look for creativity and innovation, sustainability, and value for money. We do our best to keep focused on the structural engineering aspects, which can be difficult given the incredibly complex nature of some of the projects.
This year the worthy winner of our Supreme Award for Structural Engineering Excellence (the best of all the shortlisted Awards entries) is Eckersley O'Callaghan’s Glass Lantern at the Apple Zorlu store in Istanbul. It is a prime example of apparently simple design, achieved only as a result of intense and exacting attention to detail. This project sees the structural engineer driving forward the development of glass technology and working at the very limits of what is currently achievable.
Of course as a judge you always have your own personal favourites among the entries. If I had to pick one this year it would be the World Wildlife Fund's new Living Planet Centre in Woking, by Expedition Engineering. It is a building where the layout, appearance and functionality are all driven by the imaginative application of honest-to-goodness engineering logic. It all works highly effectively as an attractive, integrated whole.
Some of my favourite projects from previous Awards years include the John Hope Gateway to the Edinburgh Royal Botanical Gardens, and the NZi3 Innovation Institute Building at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand (which earned its spurs so dramatically as the Disaster Co-ordination HQ following the Christchurch earthquakes).
Winning a Structural Award is probably as good as it gets for an engineering firm, providing global recognition and advertising. It is also a tremendous accolade for the individuals concerned, and a just reward for the many hours of hard work that go into any successful project. It is truly remarkable to be the world's best at something - and even better to be acknowledged as such. Ask any Olympian.
The Awards are a powerful tool for raising the profile of the structural engineering profession worldwide, and they also set an important benchmark of excellence, helping to demonstrate the extraordinary things structural engineers achieve every day..