What makes a Supreme Award winner?

Author: Professor Tim Ibell FIStructE

Date published

8 August 2018

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What makes a Supreme Award winner?

Date published

Professor Tim Ibell FIStructE

Date published

8 August 2018


Professor Tim Ibell FIStructE

Head of the Structural Awards judging panel, Professor Tim Ibell, discusses his role and what factors help the judges select a winner of the Supreme Award for Structural Engineering Excellence.



I first joined the judging panel for The Structural Awards about five years ago. The Awards are really important because they serve several functions: the first is to celebrate the creativity and technical ability of the structural engineering profession.

The second is to share great structural engineering projects with other built environment professionals and the general public - so that our creativity and technical ability are better recognised and understood.

The third is to inspire the next generation of structural engineers to dream even higher.

It is a tremendous privilege to chair the judging process. The jury is populated by some of the most eminent structural engineers from the UK and around the world, which makes the role of chair rather exciting and rather easy - as you know that everyone around the table will offer incisive commentary on every project.

Given the exceptional and eclectic mix of projects being considered, it is inevitable that differing viewpoints emerge, all backed up with sound reasoning. This is where my role becomes a little more hands-on: facilitating a collective decision when all the evidence has been tabled.

I have known the judges’ debate about the Supreme Winner to be intense, but in the end the jury always comes to an agreed, collective decision when the dust has settled.

The criterion – that the project must demonstrate structural engineering excellence which has gone far beyond the normal - always wins out, and is central to all discussion.

Beauty from geometry and materials

The very first winner of the Supreme Award was the (first) Severn Bridge, which is stunning for a host of reasons, not least of all as it led to a new way of designing long bridges.

More recently, the London Velodrome and the Savill Building in Windsor both shout out how the exploitation of geometry and materials can lead to something of great beauty.

Pushing boundaries

A key issue when selecting a supreme winner is the extent to which the engineers have stretched the boundaries of the possible. A great example of this is the 2014 winner, namely the Apple Store in Istanbul.

This project could only have been realised through the most profound innovation, which was made possible through system integration from start to finish across all the relevant professions and trades. Just fabulous. This is key to how we pick Supreme Winners: innovation must be at their core.

Projects of all sizes and from all companies

I suspect the biggest myth about the Supreme Structural Award is that a structure must be huge to win it. This is absolutely not the case: some of the tallest or largest structures have not won the Supreme Award over the years – which has sometimes provided a big surprise at the event in November.

Another myth might be that only a few companies ever win this award. Again, the evidence shows this not to be true: we’ve had six different winners over the last six years.

A project entered in the “under £1 million” category could win the Supreme Award, if extraordinary innovation was demonstrated across a number of areas.

A unique event

The awards evening in November is FAB! It is like no other, oozes pride in great engineering, and is always memorable for the fun way our profession shows off its colours.


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