Obituary: Professor Mike Barnes FIStructE

Published: 14/05/2018

A tribute by Michael Dickson, Past President, which was read by Past President, Tim Ibell, at Mike’s funeral on 21 February 2018. 

"Mike Barnes has been a valuable engineering colleague and great friend since I first met him around 1975 at a conference in the Institut feur LeichtefleachaenTragworke (IL) (Lightweight Structures) at Stuttgart University. He and I shared a passionate interest in this field and both had the good fortune to work with the German inventor and architect, Frei Otto, on a number of outstanding projects."

"In the early days of Buro Happold, Mike’s analytical and form-finding work on the Grossvoliere, Meunchen, on the large cable net for the Sports Centre at King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah and on the design (unfortunately not built) for the Dolly Parton Music Centre, Gatlinburg Tennessee was invaluable - enabling their complex natural forms to be both analysed for stress and their geometry accurately determined for construction. Previously this data had to be rather inaccurately obtained from the measurement of scale models, so his contribution of Dynamic Relaxation (DR) to the tools available to the engineer was substantial.

"It was probably just as well that as a Senior Reader at City University Mike was quite a night owl. This allowed him to  run his powerful DR analysis programmes when capacity on the mainframe computer was available. It was the era before sophisticated graphical output and so required Mike and his engineering colleagues, Eddie Pugh, Peter Heppel and myself from Buro Happold to scrutinise large volumes of printout to assess the results – an activity best done in the dead of night over quantities of tea, coffee and the odd dram –sometimes served up to tired eyes by Janet, later his wife. 

"Both the glimmering stainless steel mesh of the Aviary in Munich and the extraordinary but large doubly curved cable-net and membrane surfaces in Jeddah stand to this day as tribute to his work - as do many other lightweight structures that he consulted on across the world – with the late Harold Meulberger of IPL on the sweeping forms at the Seville Exhibition, and the re-analysis and design of the large deployable cover to the Olympic Arena Montreal and much else.
While at City, he also  supervised a number of Doctoral Theses in this emerging field of complex but efficient analysis (DR). David Wakefield under Mike’s sympathetic supervision received his doctorate from City University and went on to both work for Buro Happold in their early days and then to start his own specialist engineering firm Tensys in the field of lightweight and membrane structures working on projects in the Middle East,  USA and elsewhere. With David’s help, Mike’s DR programmes became the basis of Tensyl, a suite of programmes still the basis of Buro Happold’s capacity to analyse complex lightweight forms.

In 1978 or thereabouts Ted Happold, recently appointed Professor of Building Engineering  at Bath University, convinced Dr Mike Barnes to join the faculty in the joint department of Architecture and Engineering and to lead the Formfinding and Analysis group with Chris Williams and others within the multi-disciplinary Wolfson Research Group on Air-Supported Structures. Across the disciplines, this included Drs Mike Cook and John Howell on wind, Professor Bryan Harris and Martin Ansell on materials, and Ian Liddell and myself as practitioners.  

"Mike’s many skills and personality fitted snugly into this interdisciplinary approach and enabled it to actively correspond with the SonderForchungs Bereich SFB 64 group on Longspan Structures of Stuttgart University directed by Argyris, Leonhardt and Otto. Even though the final Wolfson research conference reported in 1984, Mike’s valuable work subsequently remained at the centre of advances in form and structure in this challenging field.

"Mike had many friends but he was not by nature gregarious. Soon after his arrival into Bath he favoured domestic life in a converted gatehouse in Maiden Bradley near Frome before moving with Janet to Southcot Place in the centre of Bath. However what he really revelled in was his frequent yachting trips, conducted without the aid of an outboard motor (as that would have been cheating) and often in stormy conditions. At one time I believe he owned two boats- one in the south for trips along the south coast and to the Scilly Isles and one based from the Crinan Canal in west coast of Scotland for trips to remote Hebridean islands even as far as St Kilda. 

"When Ted Happold retired in 1995, Mike was appointed the Professor of Civil Engineering. In this post he lead the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering (ACE) at Bath to ever greater recognition. He achieved this both because of his own academic standing and his exemplary ability to seek out the best like-minded talent to join the faculty. His carefully chosen new staff are now professors in their own rite - Pete Walker, BRE Professor of Innovative Construction Materials; Tim Ibell, formerly Professor of Structural Engineering at Bath and recently appointed to the Kirby Laing Chair of Civil Engineering at Cambridge University; Alex Wright, Professor of Architecture at Bath, and many others.

"Naturally this formidable array of academic talent attracted the very best young men and women to undertake undergraduate and post graduate degrees in the joint department at ACE which still thrives even after he became Emeritus Professor of Civil Engineering at Bath on his retirement in 2008.

"Chris William, a colleague at Bath UNiversity said: 'The ideas developed by Mike are being used by a new generation of engineers and architects through the Form Finding Lab at Princeton led by Sigrid Adriaenssens who did her PhD with Mike and through software such as Daniel Piker’s Kangaroo. This is a live physics engine for interactive simulation, optimisation and form-finding within Rhino’s Grasshopper parametric environment.'

"In 2000, Mike also helped organise a multidisciplinary conference on Lightweight Structures at the Department, in memory of the late Ted Happold. The book Widespan Roof Structures, published by Telford and edited by Mike and myself, remains a comprehensive exploration of the skills needed to resolve the challenges of such structures at the time.  

"On the basis of his leadership, the friendships he nurtured and the standards which he set during his tenure, which continue to this day, the Department remains a friendly place to be part of. It is also rated first in the teaching of Architecture, third in Civil Engineering and first in Research Achievement in the Built Environment. What a formidable achievement to leave behind. Indeed he maintained his close ties and friendships with his colleagues at Bath and elsewhere right to the end. Mike was undoubtedly a great friend to us all but also one of the unsung heroes from the current field of engineering. He will be very much missed by his fellow academics and friends and by Janet and Michael his stepson."


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