Being elected an honourary fellow of any engineering institution represents a great distinction for any engineer. Even more so in my case with The Institution of Structural Engineers, since most of my work has been in the field of radar, communications, antennas and fibre optics. I have always been somewhat envious of those branches of engineering where the product of designs are visually interesting to the public. In your case bridges, structures and buildings clearly enter this category, and give engineers the opportunity to produce a design of lasting visual quality and impact upon the public.
There is apparently no real equivalent in, say, the design of the telephone system as the public only sees the phone handset and is basically unaware of the remaining 99.99% of the investment and development. The public is almost exclusively concerned with its function, clearly the most important parameter, which is expected to offer 100% performance. Even in the case of a television set the engineering contribution is often seen in a similar vein. The fact that this brings new dimensions of information and entertainment into the homes is seen to be entirely due to the creative talent of the programme makers and not the designers of the broadcasting system.
Nearly 20 years ago, before TV was introduced into the House of Commons, I was asked, with one or two other engineers, to give advice to the House of Commons Select Committee on Broadcasting (i.e. broadcasting of the proceedings of Parliament). Radio broadcasts had attracted significant criticism in the press and from the public due to the noisy conflicts associated with many debates, particularly those associated with Question Times. The MPs had come to the conclusion that this must be due to the technical sound quality of the broadcasting equipment rather than the noise actually eminating from the chamber itself.
All professions evolve through time due to social, technical and other factors. Indeed, some have become extinct altogether, although there is much evidence that the engineering profession is entering a period of dramatic change, which is impacting on many professional bodies such as institutions. I would therefore like to spend a few minutes looking at the evolution of such bodies, both in the UK and internationally, and how they have related to developments in the profession before.
Sir David Davies, CBE, FREng, FRS
Chairman, Railway Safety, (formerly President, Royal Academy of Engineering)