Transcript: 01 - Architect vs Engineer? Why raise the question? — with David Knight
Jeanette:

Good morning everyone. Today we will be continuing our podcast talking about architecture, civil engineering… basically the built environment and all the materials and the way that we ought to be designing such that we aim for sustainability and wellbeing to whomever we are building for.

Today we have David Knight, from Cake Industries, and together we will be discussing the role of architects and civil engineers and how this ties in together with the design process and to clients, and well, not just clients but students and whomever it is within the industry going to be partaking within it.
So, Dave, what’s your take on this? I mean, architects and civil engineers are very separate in the UK, they both have very distinct professions. But yet again they are both working towards a common goal. Right, so?

David:

Absolutely. It is an interesting discussion. This discussion has been going on for years. And historically we started with architects being the master building – the overall guiding mind of a building project or a construction of a church say, or a castle – and that was the one guiding mind that later became the architect role. And, through the Victorian era we sort of saw specialism, we saw the role becoming too big for one person and education becoming specialised, and engineers particularly, becoming specialist in making things stand up – in the case of a structural engineer – or in the case of a civil engineer which obviously is a separation from the military engineer, but civil engineer will be looking at drainage, roads, making sure infrastructure works. And that specialism and that gradual branching is something that meant that more and more of the works that traditionally were the architects’ role were carved away into these other professions. And that has caused issues in the UK but it is a function of how specialist knowledge is that we are required to have.
So in the UK we have separate degree courses - although that's changing in some of the universities - that we have we have separate accreditation bodies and separate processes for becoming an architect with a capital ‘A’ or an engineer with a capital ‘E’. And that separation has led to sort of try confrontational experience sometimes between engineers and architects appointed to do different things and see their role in a different light. What I feel and you know, I as well as Jeanette, have worked with people who feel this as well is that really the best projects come when that aggressive confrontational approach doesn't exist and you're there is a collaborative way and you as an engineer are there to support, to challenge the architect but also to understand how they work.

Jeanette:

Yes, well in Malta it was slightly strange because the way the professional works here is that it's almost the other way round, right? So until a few years ago students graduated as architects and engineers and then they sort of, you know, find their way into the specialisation they would like to go into. And fairly recently there has been a marked difference, so we seem to be going slightly against the flow of what is happening in the UK. But what made me think was that civil engineering encompasses all sorts of other engineering - the bracket of civil engineering is very vast as you have mentioned. There is structural, military, coastal and all sorts of engineering. But it is called ‘civil engineering’, and I think sometimes we forget what the ‘civil’ bit means. Because ‘civil’ is actually ‘for the people’ and sometimes we actually miss the wood for the trees really. I mean, if we are designing for the people and we are doing civil engineering, is it really that we're designing for the people. And this is where I think that we need work particularly with architects but also with other professionals that deal with people because we need to understand them to be able to design for them.

David:

Absolutely. Yeah, and if you look at the UK, the Institution of Civil Engineers, which is the awarding body for chartership and their charter talks about civil engineering as the arts of (I may get the words wrong here) taking the great forces of nature and harnessing them for the benefit of mankind. In that summation of what civil engineering is, the human aspect - the mankind bit - is so important and we need to always be thinking about that. It's so easy when you're doing a civil engineering project to think “well my job here is to do what the client wants”, but actually in especially in our current era when we are talking about climate emergency, wider thoughts, policy thoughts or environmental thoughts or contexts thoughts should come into and need to come into what we do as engineers.

Jeanette:

It is fascinating that sometimes we focus upon trying to breakdown the professions rather than making sure that you know things are seamless and there is some element of ego perhaps and people want to shine in the design rather than prioritising other aspects of the design that are important. In fact, I've looked up quotation by Jean Prouvé which I thought was really on point with regards this this particular topic and he says: “Architect? Engineer? Why raise the question? Why debate it. The important thing is to build. Why can't the builders of aeroplanes or dame, etc. be called architects? it immediately makes one realise that the architect has to be an engineer otherwise there's no defensible idea. My opinion precisely is this: that the question does not rise in the first place.” And it is true really right? He said this in the beginning of the 19th century and it is really still pertinent today.

David:

There was couple of things that jolted in my memory one; of which is about how we talk about things and one of the outcomes in the UK is this split of the profession is that we talk in different languages. You know, as engineers we talk about bending moments, we talk about stresses and strains, and we worry about differential settlement, and all of this jargon that is really vital in what we do. But we don't talk about feeling and the effect of a building on someone which is how architects talk. One of the things that I was taught at University; I think it's one of the things that stuck with me; is that to be able to contribute in those situations you have to understand you have to learn the language of the other parties and for me that's been the ability to listen and talk back about architectural concepts in the language of architecture. And the best architects I work with also have that skill they can talk back in the language of engineering and understand when I say “I'm not sure that’s something that can actually be built and/or how can we fabricate that”; and you get to a stage in those relationships where there are no divisions between engineer and architect. You are doing the same job, you bring your particular skills and there is a necessary specialism sometimes it is in being very, very good at your core engineering skills and the same with architects being very, very good at the core architecture skills. You bring all of those skills into the ring, you shut the door you forget who's labelled what, and you have ideas. You work out what's going on and the best projects are the way you can't really identify who made that decision that really changed the project. It was all of you.

Jeanette:

I completely agree, and I think that the best pieces of work as we've seen are when you can't really tell what this architecture and what is engineering, and the two fuse so perfectly well that there are no frills, there are no extra bits. You can't just say “I'm going to take this away”; you can’t because the entire thing works so perfectly well, so beautifully well that there is no architecture without engineering and there's no engineering without the architecture. So precisely this is what really we ought to be focusing on especially from the early stages of the design because this can't happen when you're just trying to fit in and solve a problem to an architectural project.

David:

It's almost a truism isn't it that there is no architecture without engineering and no engineering without architecture - but we do see too many projects where the structure is designed in isolation to the cladding and the cladding feels like it's clipped onto the outside or the converse, that architecture - the shape, the form - is designed before anyone has thought how does this stand up, and the structure looks like it's clipped on and that's where I think we fail as a profession. We come into this project and seeing that its ultimately my job to make it stand up, that's a flippant way of saying it as a structural engineer is my job to make it work make it stand up. But that isn't your job, that is job of the project – it has to stand up - and your role is a structural engineer is to verify that it does; but that is massively under selling what you can bring to the project if you're in the room at the right points or if you are, as I say, speaking the right language to contributing to the right discussions, you can elevate the whole project beyond a clip-on façade.

Jeanette:

And obviously, I mean, the way that possibly this could be solved is that from earlier on in the design process we ask the question “why?” Why is this thing like that? And then why not try this? Then how are we going to make this better? Rather than, you know, just talk about calculations, numbers and bending moments from the part of the engineer. So it's less of a linear process we need to go back and forth, right, with ideas, tossing things around to see how they work. And I think it is really important that we don't lose sight of the fact that if the engineers come on board early on or they are involved in the design earlier there is a huge cost-effective design that comes through as well, because we can really tailor-make materials… And this in the context of climate change, sustainability, we just don't use them as frivolous words, we don't just pay lip service to these words; but we actually are applying them in what we are trying to do.

David:

And the important is to appreciate that's not an easy thing to do, it's not an easy thing to do as an engineering. It feels very exciting to be in those early meetings but to be effective in those early meetings you really have to know what the consequences are of the decisions that you make and that requires experience or knowledge of how you go through a project. But also you have (and I am very much looking from an engineering point of view and I appreciate some of the audience might not be engineers but) you very much have to have the confidence to engage and we have to have the confidence to push forward your ideas and to say “No, I really think we should think about that” and those are all skills that need learning, and needs thinking about, and need teaching. The creativity that we talk about with engineer's ability to have new ideas and new ways of thinking about it is something that sparks into that. And it is hard for an architect, those early meetings if you're used to being the master builder, being the person that has the idea and then just sends it off to an engineer to sort out, that's a very easy way through it, and if you prefer to do that it’s the easiest thing for you. It doesn't make it good project but, sometimes it very rarely makes it a good project, but you have to give something, you have to allow yourself to be persuaded, and allow yourself to listen, and allow yourself to collaborate. And though those I think that's the thing that we often forget when we are going to be in the room, we need to be there early, we forget that it’s hard, we forget that we need to spend time working on being better at it.

Jeanette:

And I think you touched on a very good point – it’s the collaboration – it’s not just one person leading, it’s the entire team. And we were talking about architecture and engineers but I mean engineers even in the wider sense of engineers because there are building services engineers, mechanical, electrical and all sorts of other disciplines within what constitutes a successful building; and successful not just in how pretty it looks but, you know, that it really performs a function, that it actually gives something back and yes, to a certain degree there needs to be this interdisciplinary approach, right, understanding other people's points of view, seeing how they apply to a project. As were saying before this to-ing and fro-ing seeing how best to tailor make this.

David:

There's a parallel there with character and in the UK engineers are often seen as quite quiet people, they're quite insular they don't and it is a caricature really of what an engineer is. But there they're not the kind of people that are extrovert and are able to engage in those meetings. I think sometimes we hide behind that, and especially we hide behind that when it comes to our place in the wider world and we're talking about projects and but our engagement, say with policy, with where we should put high speed rail lines, for example, or how we deal with climate emergency. We have technical knowledge and skills as engineers and we need to develop those communication and collaboration skills beyond working with architects in the project to engaging with civic society and bringing all of that knowledge and hopefully helping a wider gamut of the of the world.

Jeanette:

Yes… I mean… it is very far-reaching and it is not easy… I mean that's why they're called ‘starchitects’ perhaps because they tend to be the more flamboyant (maybe) characters within the project but I think as you said text engineers need to pluck up courage really to take a bit of a stand in the beginning to say “my input is important at this stage as well” in whatever project that that maybe. And, yes, basically we do need each other and perhaps we need to aim to be more of an ‘archi-neer’ maybe or an ‘engi-tect’? I don't know, some hybrid to understand each other!?

David:

I kind of disagree I think (J: Oh dear! D: chuckles, makes good conversation, doesn’t it). I think there is space for interdisciplinary practises so people who are on the boundary between the two but I think you still need specialism and Chris Wise talks about a ‘T-shaped professional’. So that someone who has the breadth to engage across disciplines say with architects, with mechanical engineers, policymakers, with planners, but that's a sort of shallow bit of knowledge – it’s enough knowledge to communicate it's not enough knowledge to do their job. But the equally important bit of the ‘T’, the stem, that depth is your skill and that's what you bring you need to have some people who really do know about the details of the steel codes and looking at bucking of steel webs in bridges. It's really important that those specialisms exist and if we were all interdisciplinary, we wouldn't have enough time to have that depth knowledge and the skill of being at competent professional really is to take your knowledge and transmit it and communicate it to others. And we're all on a spectrum, you know, I'm probably slightly less in the specialist end and I'm more in an intermediate zone but something by now much more in the specialist bucket but without the crossbar and the ‘T’, without the ability to communicate doesn't mean anything. If you really know about the codes but can't tell anyone about it, so what, it's just going to stay in your head.

Jeanette:

Yes, of course, there's not just one architect or one engineer working on a project; there are teams of people so obviously every person will then be contributing to the project in whatever way he’s specialised in. I mean communication is also a speciality if you were to look at it in that way.

David:

That’s quite interesting.

Jeanette:

To co-ordinate and to see how things flow together is almost a speciality because not everyone can do it, not everyone is able to, maybe, communicate with an architect or with an engineer; so it goes both ways, I think.

David:

It's something that we don't pick up enough on in large projects and I know you have work on large projects, Jeanette, I have too where you have teams of hundreds of people in lots of different practises, different organisations working on a project and what we, I suppose, this sort of social science side of how you make that teamwork effectively is another skill and we often … well there's lots of things about engineering but that doesn't really work; but one of them is that we remake those teams every time we have a new project so you've never very, very rarely do another project with exactly the same team. So you're constantly learning, you're constantly working out how you work as a team and also trying to do the project. But we also don't think well we need to build the team, we need to concentrate on how the bits of the team go together, and we need to design how we interface to get the best out of each other. And so for some people that's not face-to-face meetings; that's emails or reports and for some people it needs to be face-to-face or it needs to be over a piece of sketch paper to really communicate.

Jeanette:

Where do you think we should start off from? Is it something that needs to be, you know… we said that we do not really teach this thing at universities, but it is something that we should? It is something that we ought to be doing during the chartership preparation (we call it Warrant here locally, but it's basically the same thing being ready to practise in the industry) or should it be part of CPD? Where does it fit? I mean, because I think it should start right from the beginning perhaps, right?

David:

Yeah well and it's very interesting what you were talking about how the process in Malta and you appear to have a much better system in many ways than the UK where we are so divided in our University degrees and as I mentioned briefly at the beginning there are some universities – Bath, Leeds and Sheffield particularly – where they are doing combined degrees so they are giving you a Bachelor degree in engineering and also a part one in architecture within your first, undergraduate course. And that's a really good idea and the people who come out of those courses are able to speak both languages and choose which direction they want to go in if they still want to decide change their mind. But it allows them to specialise within that and say well “I'm more on the structural side”, say, and I can specialise. But that constant communication, I am now told that the Bath courses sort of the exemplar of that and it’s currently run by Professor Tim Ibell who talks a lot about creativity and about how to engender the kind of things that we're talking about. And it was set up by Ted Happold of Buro Happold as a way of trying to address exactly this problem - that architects and engineers don't speak the same language. And I think it has to happen at University and I had a specialist engineering course; it was actually general engineering course so I learned a lot about mechanical engineering and fluids and all of these other things which are less important now but in the same way that general engineering course allows me to talk to specialists in other engineering fields; and that was a great thing, it's less built environment focused but it still has that ability to speak different languages. Yeah, I think it would be very old fashioned now to have a course an engineering course where you don't have some part of it dedicated to speaking to other people working in teams with architects to develop a project, just because that reflects how we work day-to-day and I think you're right, though, that we need to be thinking about it in CPD, the initial professional development stage as well because too often graduates come out…

Jeanette:

It feels that it gets forgotten, everyone gets so focused in trying to achieve the specialisation that sometimes the ‘T’, the top bar of the ‘T’, gets watered down and I'm not much importance is given to it. And then you find yourself in a project and you're in a bit of a loss, because you know a lot about buckling of whatever it is and not much about what the architect language is. And true, it is just learning another language.

David:

And I think that’s… you know, you run a practise, I run at a small practise, it is sort of beholden to people like us to remember that about being a graduate engineer, and to remember that one of the real downsides being a graduate engineer that you're seen immediately as something that's profitable, you were there to do work and that work that you can to is often quite menial – they be doing computer modelling or it could be doing basic calculations and all of that is good learning. It takes a very long time before you see the consequences of what you do and are involved in the decisions that really affect projects. And it puts a lot of people off! Lots of people go into practise as graduates and say well why aren't I involved in all this wonderful stuff that I learned about at university and if you find your way through it and you find the right mentors then you eventually have a great career and you do do amazing projects. But if you don't, it can be really quite a treacherous path and we need to remember that graduates need that breadth, they need to be trained in that breadth, they may not be able to do it straight away but they need to have that experience otherwise later on they won't develop it.

Jeanette:

I think we've mentioned so many aspects of this interaction between professionals that one really needs to practise it to be able to understand what we mean. And perhaps one little thing that people could keep in mind, professionals or even the clients, when they are speaking to (because clients are involved as much as) the engineer and the architect in the initial stages; is to think of the end products of all this work. It's not just designing a column, or putting cladding on something… What is the building going to do, what is the structure going to do, and I believe (I may be wrong but I truly believe) that if we keep sustainability and wellbeing of the end user in mind; and beyond the professional, beyond who you are and what you're trying to achieve, if you keep that in mind and always aim your efforts towards that general direction, I think somehow there will be some synergy that happens within the team.

So yes, thank you so much David for joining us today. It has been amazing talking to you and maybe this will be one of the many that we will be doing together. Thank you!

David:

Thank you, it’s been great.

Jeanette:

Have a lovely day!

David:

Thank you and yeah thanks for inviting me.

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