Update from the President: 9 February

Published: 09/02/2017

Another update for members from Ian Firth.

Since my last entry I have continued to discuss my concerns with various people regarding developments in the way design services are procured, and I have found that these concerns appear to be widely shared. In particular, there is a shared anxiety about the potential for serious problems to arise if procurement processes do not allow designers to do what they need to do properly, namely to reduce risks to acceptable levels.

I raised these concerns in my inaugural address (now published in The Structural Engineer), and will be taking them up with other leaders across the built environment professions with a view to initiating a cross-discipline review of modern procurement processes. 

I believe passionately in the vital importance of structural engineering to society. It is not an exaggeration to say that public safety is in our hands, and if we are to serve society properly and deliver not only safe but also elegant and economic structures, we must be adequately empowered by the terms of our professional appointments to do so. But too often we find that we are limited by the constraints of an inadequate scope, programme or fee, and we are forced to compromise in some way. There is therefore a real risk that, although obviously unintended, such a compromise could lead to disaster which would have been entirely avoidable if those constraints were less severe. 

I would be interested to hear about examples, perhaps made anonymous and unattributable where necessary, where such situations have arisen. Readers will presumably know about CROSS where real concerns of this nature can be reported confidentially, so please feel free to report that way if that is appropriate. 

Last week I attended the inauguration of the new chairman of the North Thames Regional Group, which took place at Imperial College. I spoke to an audience which included many young engineers, students and researchers, and the discussions afterwards touched on a range of issues concerned with improving the quality of design of the buildings and structures we create. It was a very enjoyable occasion, and I particularly enjoyed visiting the structures laboratories in the afternoon and learning about some exciting new technologies from some of the young researchers.

I have been pleased to see an increasing number of people engaging with me through my Twitter feed where I see and make comments from time to time about subjects of possible interest to structural engineers. Social media is not everyone's cup of tea, and a short while ago I would have said it definitely was not mine, but it serves a useful purpose and is a great way to keep informed and to follow threads of interest. There is no doubt that it is the preferred method of communication for our young members (email is so last century!) so I suspect we had better get used to it!

Over the next few weeks I am looking forward to several visits and meetings, including my trip to Dublin this weekend for my visit to the Republic of Ireland Regional Group, upcoming visits to East Midlands, Belfast and the UAE, and the first meeting of Council this year. No doubt there will be lots to report on next time.

Please check out my Structural Anniversaries piece. The first episode was published last week with a few notable structures which are 120 years old this year. Watch out for the 110 year-olds shortly. There will also be another group of notable structures to look out for being completed this year. Please feel free to comment on any of these things – I would love to get some feedback.

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