Infrastructure has “social responsibility” to invest in good design

Bridge designers insist that renewed focus on design excellence by clients and professionals is vital to boost quality and save money over the life of infrastructure.

Engineers must insist that infrastructure clients invest early in good design to ensure that resulting structures are not only efficient and easy to maintain but also enhance the lives to those who use them.

Clients must be persuaded to choose designers that can fulfil their ‘social responsibility’ to produce high quality infrastructure, said Ian Firth, Flint & Neill chief executive, last week, arguing that it should not cost more in the long run.

“The onus needs to be placed back on clients to take responsibility for design quality,” Firth told delegates at the recent ICE Bridge conference, highlighting that absence of good design was often blamed on the need to cut costs.

“Engineering elegance is not just about appearance. It does not have to cost more,” Ian Firth

However, he warned that the industry needed to raise its game it terms of the way it delivered design excellence across the infrastructure sector.

“Engineering elegance is not just about appearance,” he explained, pointing out that good design led to structures that lasted longer and cost less to maintain. “It does not have to cost more,” he said

The current procurement processes adopted by many key infrastructure clients needed to be revamped, said Firth, warning that the existing processes tended to drive solutions towards lowest cost. 

But he also suggested that more emphasis on design education was needed and recommended the inclusion of specific design courses at university to boost focus on this critical element of the profession. 

Award winning bridge designer Martin Knight, of Knight Architects agreed that engineers also had a “professional obligation” to insist on good design.

Bridges should be designed to be maintained, operated and fun" and should "produce an element of theatre". Martin Knight

While he urges clients to embrace bridges and buildings with a ‘strong identity’, he said that an "integrated design approach" by professionals was needed to ensure that all components of a structure design – structural, visual, whole life maintenance and usability – had to be included when producing a client solution.

"We work too much work was in silos," he said, saying that better design can be achieved by increased communication between parties. 

Referring to his recent Moving Bridge in Paddington, Knight said bridges should be "designed to be maintained, operated and fun" and should "produce an element of theatre".