Above: Ove Arup, image courtsey of Arup

2018 President, Faith Wainwright, set the question for this year’s Kenneth Severn Award, asking entrants to predict how structural engineering will look in 10-15 years' time. Here she discusses the future of the profession and three factors that could change the way structural engineers work.
 
Every year the Institution’s Kenneth Severn Award challenges members under the age of 28 to write an essay in response to a question set by the new President. It’s a wonderful opportunity for students and young professionals to share ideas, building on the Institution’s pivotal role as a centre of excellence and a forum for debate.
 
I based this year’s question on one of the three key the themes of my Presidency: ‘Lead to Inspire’. I believe that leadership exists at all career stages and it is our profession’s collective responsibility to help shape the future by looking ahead, thinking about the challenges and how we turn them to opportunities, inspiring the next generation of structural engineers to be part of that future.
 
As engineers, we are and must be future seekers, and the 2018 Award question encourages members to explore how we will work in the future. Whether you are interested in potential technologies, materials or working practises, this is an invitation to share your ideas of how structural engineers of the future may exploit these to the benefit of society.
 
Factors like automation already generate a huge amount of debate when we discuss the future of the profession, but there are a number of other interesting areas that don’t always receive so much attention and might provide inspiration for entrants to the Kenneth Severn Award. I think the following three topics will impact how we work –
 
Machine learning could have huge implications for us, and many areas are being looked at which help us see the potential – for example natural flood management, where we can teach computers to recognise important features in the landscape, and glass façade design, where computers could generate increasingly accurate projections of glass performance under various conditions.
 
Block chain technology is not typically associated with the built environment, but it holds promise as a way to develop trust networks, enhance BIM, and help overcome the often talked about disconnects in what remains a fragmented construction industry.
 
Social and demographic change could create more unpredictable challenges for the profession: increased life expectancy, for instance, could mean that more people want to move into engineering later in life from other professions, leading to entirely new perspectives entering engineering discourse.
 
I’m looking forward to reading this year’s competition entries and discovering the exciting prospects others see in structural engineering’s future.
 
Enter the Kenneth Severn Award. (Submissions close 31 January)
 
 

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