Thinking

Welcome to our thoughts section. Here you will find articles and interesting excerpts from what our team has been ticking over.

At last month’s annual Highways UK conference in Birmingham, there was much discussion on the opportunities for investment in UK infrastructure as well as innovation in the way it is delivered. Director Judith Sykes reflects on key points from her panel discussion, hosted by ICE Midlands and Burgess Salmon, focusing on how devolved powers can foster regional approaches to sustainable infrastructure delivery.

A systems problem

The challenge with infrastructure delivery has always been that infrastructure system boundaries never align with political or economic geographies. We see a gap between the national and local level, and a need to work across administrative boundaries. Devolution alone does not completely resolve this either. Hence, within the ICE’s 2016 State of the Nation report on the subject of devolution, we recommended the creation of regional strategies to reflect the need for a subnational approach. This reflects, to a certain extent, the role already being taken by …

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Some years ago, a group of us here at Expedition began reflecting on some of the fundamental ideas behind structural engineering. Firstly, it’s pretty obvious that we need to design our buildings, bridges and other structures so that they are strong enough and won’t collapse…safe enough to assume that this has been an underlying tenet of structural engineering at least since the first pyramids were built in ancient Egypt!

A second fundamental principle, and one which specifically appears in all modern design codes, is to design structures that are stiff, so that they don’t move or deform too much under some statistically-calculated worst-case loads. Think: high winds, heavy snow, large crowds of people. This is not really a question of safety, rather it is about usability and comfort (or serviceability, to give it its collective engineering-ish name). In many cases, these conditions are rather onerous on the design, to the point…

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By definition, an experimental project involves tackling new, untested ideas, which can bring uncertainty and risk but potential extra value; economic, aesthetic, functionality, etc. Effectively managing that uncertainty, whilst also enabling creative experimentation, is essential. A successful experimental project starts with assembling the right team.

When we talk about experimentation and new ideas in the structural engineering design context how untested is untested? Does it mean untested on that particular site? Or untested anywhere worldwide in the last 30 years? Have key elements of the design idea already been tested in a different setting, such as a laboratory or workshop?  Perhaps the fundamental idea is already well tested and ‘just’ needs to be applied to a new situation?  Of course it is all a question of one’s cultural frame of reference and horizon of expertise and knowledge. Clearly if a design problem can be solved by a brief discussion with colleagues…

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Smartphones and bouncy structures – what do they have in common?

Until recently, nothing – but we hope that’s all about to change. A group of engineers at Expedition have recently been spending their nights and weekends developing an app for Android devices, that uses the in-built accelerometers of your smartphone to provide a simple, but powerful tool to test the dynamic performance of structures.

The trouble with designing for structural vibrations is that it’s quite arbitrary. Unlike other phenomena, like wind or gravity, we don’t tend to have an intuitive feel for what a certain level of acceleration actually means, nor do we have any real idea of how our ‘as-built’ structures perform in real-life as compared to our analysis models, as these are rarely tested (because it costs too much).

Usually, testing of built structures is only undertaken for specialist uses (such as laboratories), or if something has gone clearly wrong!…

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The office will be closed on 18th and 19th June. Expedition Engineering’s staff are very pleased to be joining our sister companies for the first Useful Simple Trust study tour from 18th to 21stJune.  We will be visiting the recently opened Intesa SanPaolo Tower in Turin, followed by the Milan Expo before continuing on to Athens, where we will take a tour of the site of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center incorporating the National Library of Greece and Greek National Opera where the structure is nearing completion.

Find out about the Useful Simple Trust here and see our project pages for more information about Intesa SanPaolo Tower and Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre, Athens

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If we were given a pound for every person who said they loved our old website then we would be rich … well certainly rich enough to commission a cool new website . But life’s not like that and in the years since that bouncy spring and dodgy washing line projects first swept across the screen the world of websites and their users has changed drastically.

Firstly, a not-so-minor issue was that anyone with a smart phone or tablet couldn’t see our site. Nor could search engines. In fact, unless you were searching for Viagra then it was unlikely that Google would point you in our direction at all. Then even if you got there our experts told us that it was optimised for fun rather than ease of use: the modern user would have given up and gone to look at Arup long before the first swoosh had finished its dance.…

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We like to argue that structural forms should be tuned to their function. When this is done well, it brings an intrinsic elegance that adds to the aesthetic of a building. Arches, shells cables nets, tapered cantilevers are all examples of expressed structural systems.

This should not really be surprising. We are surrounded in nature with things like trees, spider webs and egg shells amongst others which for very good evolutionary reasons have forms that are highly tuned to their structural function. Our sense of “the way that things should look and be” is formed by our everyday experience and we generally feel more comfortable where the structural function of what we are looking at is evident in its form.

Fortunately, there is more to building design that structural performance, and fortunately not everything in nature is shaped by gravity forces…!

In a context of shrinking energy resources and climate change, the need to…

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One of our research engineers, Kell Jones, has been exploring how we might encourage the adoption of more sustainable materials and processes in a traditionally conservative UK construction industry.  This thought piece summarises the findings of Kell’s Masters research project and explores the common contexts in which Cross-Laminated Timber has overcome the industry lock-in to low cost and low risk processes. If you would like to read the full article, you can find it on our sister company’s USP website. http://www.usefulsimpleprojects.co.uk/overcoming-conservatism-in-construction/

Achieving sustainable development requires the decoupling of economic growth from the use of non-renewable resources.  Increased resource efficiency will require the adoption of new materials and techniques.  Previous research has identified many barriers to adoption of unconventional approaches by a traditionally conservative UK construction industry.

My masters sought to develop a deeper understanding of the causes of barriers to the adoption of unconventional materials in the industry along with the conditions…

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