What Engineers can learn from Artists?

Series 1/3: The Artist and the Engineer – This series reflects on the relationship in between Art and Engineering.


Photo by David Dixon

The Imperial War Museum in Salford is designed to represent a broken world. The design is complex and holds a strong visual impact. As an engineer I am constantly seeking to understand how a building is designed and how the forces flows through the structure. The Imperial War Museum is very intriguing and draws me in through its elegant design. As a civil engineer I enjoy observing different designs and understanding how form follows function. As an engineer I get drawn into my environment and drawn into the process of how things work. This provides me with the creative insight to innovatively approach engineering problems.

Artist works in a similar way; they explore and observe their environment. This provides a palette with which to create and design innovative new processes that challenge the conventional methods. Artists aim to change your perception and make you reflect. Artists aim to create something which inspires and speaks to each and every one of us at a personal and intimate level. Artists have a great ability to observe and challenge their environment.

Artists and engineers may approach their environment differently but both strive to observe and explore the built and natural environment; in order to create, enhance and sustain places which bring people together. Artists can inspire engineers through their creativity and in-depth observation of their environment. Engineers and Artists offer a great observational insight into the way our environment works. How could artists and engineers work closer together in order to better understand the challenges society faces?

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Why I love Civil Engineering!

“Working on this bridge made me the proudest kid on the block; I had contributed to society made a difference, worked on a project that had the potential to save lives”

Find out more about me and why I am passionate about civil engineering and what I believe civil engineers can achieve on the John Donaghy tab.

There and Back Again

Series 3/3: Space Time Continuum – This series reflects on the then and the now, the old and the new, on how we connect with an ever evolving urban landscape.

The following entry is dedicated to people suffering from Dementia and those that care for them.


In the previous series we have reflected on the importance of stories that connect people to places and the role of new technologies in social innovation. What is the balance required between new and old to create smarter cities that work for the community. With an increase in PFI (Private Funding Initiative) buildings are being designed with a life span of 30 to 40 years. This enables the design to meet the rapid changes in building functionality and as form follows function a change in function leads to a change in form. What are the affects of this ever changing landscape on the community?

People require stories to connect with their built environment; stories can be found in history. When history is removed from a place the sense of connection is lost. It is a well known fact that individuals suffering from Dementia need continuity as their long term memory is less effected than short term. This has led to some interesting use of technology and design to improve the quality of life of Dementia patients (e.g. Dementia Phones and RemPods). What role can the built environment play in improving the quality of life of Dementia patients?

There is a few different ways the industry has responded to this question. The old is not necessarily destroyed as its form outlives its function instead the building is provided with a new function. In new builds the planning permission stage may require investment into the renovation of local buildings. New builds can also pick up on local themes and tell the story of the area; this is what the Vimto Gardens development in Salford, Chapel Street, is achieving. This preserves the identity of the local community and enables people to connect with their built environment. It also enables people to discover their community in a new light. This type of design can improve the lives of Dementia patient as well as enable us all to better connect with our built environment.

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Engineering to the Future

Series 2/3: Space Time Continuum – This series reflects on the then and the now, the old and the new, on how we connect with an ever evolving urban landscape.


Photo by Ramunas Geciauskas

As an engineer I am passionate about innovation, innovation in technology, materials, process, ect. Innovation allows us to meet new challenges, build to new heights and work better together. I get excited about the newest and latest and how it can revolutionise our industry. The use of drones to inspect bridges, the use of tablets and integrated software on site; these technologies allow us to work to higher standard and increase health and safety on site. Which innovation in the engineering industry are are helping us to meet the challenge of engineering design for social innovation?

  • BIM (Building Information Modelling) has taken the construction industry by storm. Its system enables a 3D rendering of large, varied and complex data. This has led to a revolution in the way we communicate allowing different disciplines to access the information they require. This has the potential to improve partnership in between industry allowing different disciplines to work in a cohesive manner. The possibilities with new technology such as 3D printing are limitless.
  • GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic) is a light weight and strong materiel. It is being used in property level flood defence. The materiel is perfectly suited for flood defence and can easily be lifted in and out of place. This has the capacity to replace the archaic sand bag and provide a cost effective solution for properties at risk. New materials and a different use of old materials are constantly challenging and improving the way engineers design.

How do we differentiate innovation and social innovation? The two examples above present a range of innovative ideas with a positive impact on society. However small or ground breaking an idea is the important factor is how it is used and for what purpose. Engineers will always innovate and meet new challenges, how we meet these challenges and move forward with these innovative ideas will define us. It will define us as great designers, social innovators and leaders.

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What can Designers learn from Disneyland?

Series 1/3: Space Time Continuum – This series reflects on the then and the now, the old and the new, on how we connect with an ever evolving urban landscape.


I recently went to Disneyland Paris with my wife for our one year wedding anniversary. This is the first time I had been to an attraction park with my wife and it promised to be an interesting experience. This time I wouldn’t be searching for the fastest most terrifying ride and the repetitive rush of adrenaline as I queue again and again. My wife wasn’t there for the gravity defying rides but for the stories, the small details which connect you to the magical world of Disney. This was a very different experience in which I relaxed and enjoyed taking in the detail, buying into the stories and buying into the stores.

We all know stories sell, which is why Disneyland has more stores than restaurants and rides. People go there to live the stories, to experience the different themes and to be connected to childhood fantasies. As your turn round a corner you are transported from Hollywood to Paris and then shrunk down to the size of a toy. Everything is designed to welcome you into a magical kingdom. Who can we apply these principles to day to day life and enable people to connect with their built environment?

In my hometown of Fontainebleau each house has a few colorful tiles spread within the brick work. The tiles are different from house to house and their story is intriguing. Local legends tells of the story of a prince who once lived in the area and the tiles belonged to his palace. Small details like this bring life to an area, they create stories which connect people with their built environment. How can designer inspire themselves from local history to enable the community to connect with their design?

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