Thinking

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

The last month at Expedition has been fantastically busy! On top of a demanding work load I the had honour of being invited to participate in two Industry defining reports:

The UKSSD report ‘Measuring Up’ assesses for the first time how the UK is performing on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Through my role on the Institution of Civil Engineer’s Sustainable Leadership Team, I contributed to the analysis on how we are doing against Goal Nine: Industry, innovation and infrastructure – Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation. The data and research that we analysed for the chapter gained a mediocre amber status, and clearly showed us two things: a] we’re not delivering sufficiently resilient infrastructure and b] the UK lacks the infrastructure and associated skills required to deliver a sustainable economy.

If ‘Measuring Up’ sets the scene on what we need to do, the…

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The Swallowtail Pavilion is named after the shapes that lie at its centre. The pair of swallowtails are not a physical form, but the overlay of the translucent surface with itself. The outline of overlapping portions of the surface form unexpected, complex and beautiful forms that shift and change as you move around the pavilion. These shapes were termed ‘catastrophes’ by the iconoclastic mathematician Rene Thom and the relationship between Thom’s theorems of structural stability and its impact on the art of Salvador Dali, Naum Gabo and others are the subject of Allan McRobie’s book ‘The Seduction of Curves’.

Following the release of the book, Allan was asked by the award-winning garden designer Jo Thompson to create a sculpture for the 2018 Chelsea Flower Show, and Expedition were brought on board soon after.

The…

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HS4Air (High Speed for Air) is a proposed strategic high-speed rail/air connection in south east England developed by Expedition director Alistair Lenczner.

The proposal is for a new high-speed railway connection that links the existing HS1 line with the planned HS2 line passing via both Gatwick (LGW) and Heathrow (LHR) airports to the south and west of London.

The proposal is seen as offering multiple benefits across several infrastructure sectors. These include:

Fast direct rail access to both LGW and LHR from major cities north and west of London including Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff Dramatically reduced journey times for rail journeys between south east England and the Midlands, North and West UK Direct high-speed train services from Manchester and Birmingham to Europe via the channel tunnel A 15-minute transfer time between LGW and LHR allowing them to share operations Fast rail freight services by-passing London to allow dramatically faster logistics operations Relief for London’s rail network…

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Expedition’s Energy Infrastructure expert Daniel Raymond reflects on decarbonisation and planning for the energy transition.

Gas Combined Heat and Power (CHP), rightly or wrongly, has for a long time been the go to approach for delivering CO2 emissions savings against conventional generation. Its ability to bypass the use of traditionally carbon intensive grid electricity has meant it was heavily promoted by National Policy and particularly the current London Plan, as a way of meeting our carbon commitments.

However, like many in our industry I have often felt an uneasiness with the sometimes blinkered roll out of gas CHP just to meet planning conditions. In part because, as we know all too well, CHP requires a set of particular conditions to operate as intended; but even more so, because the electricity grid, which gas CHP has been betting against all this time, has been getting cleaner.

Decarbonisation of the grid always meant…

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For International Women’s Day, Fiona Wyatt, Civil Engineer and Associate at Expedition, reflects on being a ‘Woman in a Man’s World’.

What inspired you to become an engineer? My choice to study Civil Engineering at Bristol came after a chance encounter with a female engineer at a careers fair, who totally inspired me about the possibility of engineering and opened my eyes to the creativity it could offer. Having always had an aptitude for numbers, and problem solving, I was concerned that a future in a ‘maths’ discipline may be rather dull, however she showed me her exciting portfolio of projects which was far from that. Additionally, iconic structures such as Brunel’s Clifton suspension bridge have always inspired me with their legacy to society. My hope was that engineering would give me the opportunity to work as part of a team and make a visible contribution to people’s…

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Judith, Director at Expedition Engineering, reflects on why it’s important to put the heart back into urban development.

The era of smart infrastructure is upon us, but are we approaching it in the right way? A recent research project led us to question what it will be like to live and work in developments led by smart infrastructure, and whether we are in danger of creating very clinical, placeless smart city environments?

Emerging technological trends in mobility are hugely exciting. Recent years have seen a remarkable surge in the supply, variety and demand for electric vehicles in the UK, alongside a significant rise in Bus Rapid Transit and Light Rail Networks especially in emerging economies. Smart motorways and ICT-enabled roads, are improving transport logistics, with associated environmental benefits. Autonomous vehicles are being trialed across the globe, Japan are investing in the next generation Maglev, and Tesla / SpaceX in…

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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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