Great Dane: Ove Arup

Click to enlarge
<em>Engineering the World</em> – installation photography.

Engineering the World – installation photography. Image: V&A Museum, London

1 of 8
<em>Engineering the World</em> – installation photography.

Engineering the World – installation photography. Image: V&A Museum, London

2 of 8
Sydney Opera House under construction, 6 April 1966.

Sydney Opera House under construction, 6 April 1966. Image: Robert Baudin, courtesy of Australian Air Photos

3 of 8
A world first, the SolarLeaf bio-reactive algae façade, Glasstatik BIQ Hamburg, 2013.

A world first, the SolarLeaf bio-reactive algae façade, Glasstatik BIQ Hamburg, 2013. Image: Colt/Arup/SCC

4 of 8
Sir Ove Arup by Godfrey Argent, 1969.

Sir Ove Arup by Godfrey Argent, 1969. Image: National Portrait Gallery, London

5 of 8
‘Private Ove’, Ove Arup and Partners’ Christmas party pamphlet, 1963.

‘Private Ove’, Ove Arup and Partners’ Christmas party pamphlet, 1963.

6 of 8
Penguin Pool, London Zoo, 1934.

Penguin Pool, London Zoo, 1934. Image: Frederick William Bond

7 of 8
Centre Pompidou, Paris, France.

Centre Pompidou, Paris, France. Image: Ian Dagnall/ Alamy Stock Museum, London

8 of 8

The pioneering design philosophy and achievements of the Danish engineer Ove Nyquist Arup (1895-1988) are being celebrated in an exhibition in London, where he spent his professional career. Colin Martin explored Engineering the World: Ove Arup and the Philosophy of Total Design.

Sir Ove Arup by Godfrey Argent, 1969.  Image:  National Portrait Gallery, London

Ove Arup’s ideas about design were formulated in the 1920s and 1930s, when Modernists believed that design and technology could improve society. He met and corresponded with architects, including Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, and collaborated with experimental architectural practices, including Berthold Lubetkin’s Tecton Group.

The technical virtuosity of their first joint project, London Zoo’s Penguin Pool (1933/1934), was critically acclaimed. Its playful design of interlocked, spiralling ramps constructed from thin reinforced concrete was dependent on a structural analysis based on complex mathematical calculations. It established Arup’s reputation as a consulting engineer.

Similar collaborations shaped Arup’s views on how buildings should be constructed. A founding principle of his firm, established in 1938, was that design should be informed by a knowledge of construction methods.

“Total Design means to join all the professions right from the start,” he wrote. “The architect should be part engineer and the engineer should be part architect in order to achieve a fruitful collaboration.”

Engineering the World – installation photography.  Image:  V&A Museum, London

That wasn’t the case with Jørn Utzon’s original concept for the dramatic contoured roof of his Sydney Opera House (1957–1973), which he designed without any engineering consultations. Arup’s structural engineers took six years to resolve how the roof’s geometrically undefined curves could be built, with the turning point being their identification of a geometrically elegant ‘spherical solution’.

In doing so, Arup pioneered the use of computers in complex engineering calculations required to solve structural problems and revolutionised how architects and engineers worked together, forever locking them into creative partnerships of equals.

“Our point of view is in favour of teamwork rather than stardom,” he wrote. “The data, the knowledge required, can be found not in one person but in a number of persons.” Without Arup, the abstract forms of buildings designed by 21st-century architects, including Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid, would have been unrealisable.

In the late 1960s, Arup reduced his direct involvement in the firm’s projects and focused on ensuring its future by nurturing a new generation of engineers who shared his design philosophy. In collaboration with an emerging generation of architects, they developed new approaches to construction, creating a new High-Tech style in which the engineering of a building defines its appearance.

Centre Pompidou, Paris, France. Image:  Ian Dagnall/ Alamy Stock Museum, London

Arup’s engineers worked with architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers from the beginning, to define the style of the Centre Pompidou (1971–1977). The building’s external structural frame (notably its gerberette beams), service pipes and ducts – all of which permit its vast, flexible interior spaces – became its defining features.

“With new materials, new technologies, jobs are getting larger and more complex and design is split between dozens of other professions, specialists, experts, manufacturers and contractors,” wrote Arup.

Even he would be amazed by his legacy, a firm numbering 13,000 employees working in 90 offices worldwide, whose contemporary projects demonstrate how engineers are instrumental in designing and building the 21st-century world. 

The Engineering the World: Ove Arup and the Philosophy of Total Design exhibition can be seen at The Victoria and Albert Museum in London until 6 November 2016.


More review

Most read

Funfair wonderland

Funfair wonderland

A collection of whimsical knick-knacks casts a colourful spell on Wellington’s Seashore Cabaret.
On the edge: The Farm

On the edge: The Farm

A new coastal home by Fergus Scott Architects that can accommodate up to thirty relatives and friends.
In focus: Michael Webb

In focus: Michael Webb

Vanessa Coxhead spoke to architectural writer Michael Webb about his new book and what makes a great apartment building.
Architects amidst conflict

Architects amidst conflict

Thomas Denhardt examines Lebanon’s conflict-filled history and asks, “What is the architect’s role during war and conflict?”