Our Work

A Review of Sociological Issues in Fire Safety Regulation

‘A Review of Sociological Issues in Fire Safety Regulation’ by Graham Spinardi, Luke Bisby and Jose Torero presents an overview of contemporary sociological issues in fire safety. The Ove Arup Foundation has supported research into the sociological issues in fire safety at Edinburgh University for several years.

Download here:

A Review of Sociological Issues in Fire Safety Regulation (pdf, 629KB)

Design Education CIC Design Camps

The Ove Arup Foundation is providing support for Design Education CIC to run children’s design camps.

Design Education believe that every child in the 21st century should be able to design and make useful products, be they buildings or bicycles. To further that belief, they have been running a range of designing and making educational projects since their founding in 2008.

Consistent with their policy that no child or school should be denied access to these activities, they have always offered reduced rates where finance has been an obstacle to participation.

However, at a typical Design Camp they have to limit the number of assisted places to one or two per workshop in order not to damage the financial viability of the activity. Similarly, to encourage financially challenged schools to run a Design Day, they would like to offer reduced rates to schools with low Pupil Premium budgets.

The outcome of this support will be increased participation in their Design Camps and Design Days by children and schools that might otherwise be unable to join their programmes.

The benefits of engaging in their form of practical designing and hands-on making activities has been demonstrated over a long period of time, with pupils’ attainment raised in a wide range of subjects.

MADE fifth City Builder Academy

MADEThis Summer MADE ran its fifth City Builder Academy thanks to funding from the Ove Arup Foundation. Here’s how it went…

The academy was aimed at students from the West Midlands in years 10, 11, 12 and 13 who are interested in pursuing a career in the built environment. This time the academy had a ‘green’ focus where the design challenge was to create a sustainable environment and integrate green infrastructure 
into the city – appealing not only to all the budding architects and urban designers out there but also those interested in a career in landscape architecture, green technology, ecology and sustainability.

191114_MADE1It was a jam-packed, eventful week starting on the first day with a density, urban form and economics exercise invented by MADE’s CEO David Tittle. This got the students exploring ideas about the form of development before starting their design project, which was to transform a derelict space on the edge of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter into a new, vibrant, sustainable city block, the space being the Ludgate Hill car park on Livery Street/Lionel Street.

During the week the students received talks from professionals
 about their careers, routes into their current roles, the kind of projects they work on and various specialisms, which helped to influence and improve students’ designs. The professionals who took part were from the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, planning, ecology, engineering and building services.

The building-services professional 
talk was a new career option covered by the academy this year. We are very grateful to Chris Read from Engineering Services Consultancy Birmingham for this. Students also visited an architecture practice (Glancy Nicholls) and a transport consultancy (JMP) to see what it was like to work in a professional environment and
what teams work together in the practice.

191114_MADE2To aid their designs the students went on a site visit. This helped them to understand what the key aspects were of the site they were developing and what the land around the site was being used for. They also had a tour of The Cube from Greg Willis, who works at Make Architects and was involved with the development of The Cube.

On the final day each group had to present their scheme to a panel of judges and essentially have a design review of their proposal. After a competitive week with 21 students from 11 schools around the West Midlands there was a joint winner! All students had a constructive week and are now more enthusiastic about their future careers within the built environment.

We had students from 11 different schools, seven of which were new schools to send pupils to City Builder Academy. These new schools were St Augustine’s Catholic High School and Sixth Form Centre, St Paul’s School for Girls, Weobley High School, The Derby High School, Adams Grammar School, Hillcrest School and Sixth Form Centre, Hall Green School.

There were four students attending who are entitled to free school meals, five students who speak English as a second language and 10 students with no history of higher education in their family.

Interview: Shape My City’s Amy Harrison

ShapeMyCitySession_1

Last year the Ove Arup Foundation granted an award to a promising new pilot project, run by the Architecture Centre, Bristol, aimed at promoting design, architecture and urban planning among girls and Black & Minority Ethnic students aged 14-19.

The Shape My City project has now been running for a few months, and we caught up with Learning and Participation Manager Amy Harrison to see how things are going.

How much interest have you managed to generate with Shape My City?

We’re really oversubscribed with people wanting to take part, so we’ve taken a few extra, so we’re now working with thirteen students on ten monthly evening sessions, which will take us through to November.

Shape My CityHow are you structuring the sessions?

Each session covers a different element of the built environment. Each time we get an inspiring professional to come in and talk a bit about the route of their career, what inspires them. We’re trying to make sure the guest speakers reflect the ethos of the project.

What was the thinking behind the ethos?

We want to try to encourage girls and people from B&ME backgrounds to consider careers in the built environment sector. It came out of some work we did a couple of years ago with the Stephen Lawrence Trust. We have a formal partnership with the university of the West of England, and part of that is around widening participation in general, so they’ve come in as a partner on the project.

One of the reasons we were keen to do this project now is that in Bristol we’ve got an elected mayor who was an architect, and who is very passionate about the voice of young people in a democracy. We hope towards the end of the project in November we can combine what we’re doing with National Takeover Day where young people get to take over the running of things.

We have a Bristol Urban Design Forum, and we’d like our young people to take it over and do a design review session of a project that’s coming through the Enterprise zone. The recommendations that they give will be like a youth proofing of the scheme, and it will also hopefully chime with what the mayor is passionate about.

Wall of ambitionsWhat have you observed attendees gaining from the project?

A lot of our participants are at a stage where they’re dealing with UCAS forms and applying for university, so it’s really valuable for them to have conversations with real tutors and real students who are studying on the courses – it’s a big decision when you’re 18, especially with the financial implications now.

What sort of feedback have you had from participants?

They seem really keen, they keep coming back. We’ve set up a blog and a closed Facebook group so we can share things between sessions.

One element of the project is to try to empower young people to become more active and confident in place-making, and for them to become champions, and we’ve done a lot of work around trying to collect their views and opinions about this subject, and that’s been a really interesting process.

Interview: Luke Bisby, Arup Professor of Fire and Structures

Professor Luke Bisby
Professor Luke Bisby

Luke Bisby was appointed Arup Professor of Fire and Structures at Edinburgh University on 1 April 2013, after completing a five-year readership as Senior Research Fellow in Structures and Fire, co-funded by the Ove Arup Foundation and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

We caught up with Professor Bisby to ask him about his achievements over the last five years of Foundation support, and how he anticipates his research to develop in the coming months and years.

What would you highlight as the main developments of your five years as Senior Research Fellow in Structures and Fire?

Two things, I think: I have a much better sense of what the goals and drivers of fire safety are within the built environment. I’ve come to understand the economic drivers, and also the massive lobby groups that are working in the background to promote steel buildings versus concrete buildings and vice versa, and the regulatory and committee structures that are all driven by high-paid lobbyists. That is very important in informing how an academic will attack this and have any hope of being successful.

The science isn’t what’s driving this process; good science is not going to change an industry. And that’s something that I’ve come to know quite acutely.

The second thing that I’ve become very interested in is the broader context of trying to understand from a sociological perspective how it is that this dance between power and expertise in this profession actually manifests itself, so who holds the power, who makes the decisions, what expertise do they have, and how do they use it. That has led me to really broaden my interests.

Do you think you have changed your approach, fundamentally?

Well, over the last five years I have been doing various nuts-and-bolts techy little things, looking at various problems specific to various types of buildings, but these are things that are ‘not unexpected’ [in this role].

What’s been formative for me is that, when I came to Edinburgh, I felt that the science was the only benefit that I could have in the engineering community; it was the only thing I was interested in, and [I thought] that if I did that well, change would happen. And I was absolutely wrong about that.

About four years ago I went to a trustees’ meeting and presented who I was and what I intended to do, and one of the people there rather pointedly said, ‘don’t you think the broader context is as or more important?’ I thought to myself, well, that would be a waste of my time. But [Arup Trustee] Sir Duncan Michael said to me we should go to Edinburgh and talk about fire safety to a group of sociologists of science and technology in the Institute for Science, Technology & Innovation at Edinburgh University – people of whom I was completely unaware.

Everything I was saying to Robin Williams, who was the director of their centre – about my frustrations in dealing with the fire safety community, the regulatory processes, the role of standardised testing and how I felt it stifled innovation – well, he said, ‘there are big bodies of knowledge that can inform discussion around all of these issues and help you change them and understand them’. And I was sold immediately.

Then I worked with Robin to put together a bid to hire a sociologist to take the time to investigate some of these issues around the role of regulation in innovation, the role of standardised testing, power and expertise in our profession, whether fire and safety engineering even is a profession; really profound questions about what I do.

So that’s been like a three-year process of opening my eyes to the broader social context.

Have there been any other significant developments besides broadening the scope of your research?

The other major development was a grant we got from the Lloyds Register Educational Trust, now the Lloyds Register Foundation. We asked them for money to hold one-week global technical leadership seminars in fire safety engineering, where we would invite people from around the world whom we knew were open-minded – or were not, intentionally – to come and spend five days talking about what we considered to be the difficult issues for the community – but in a very safe environment, so they would feel empowered to be honest and speak freely. And we learned from this the our audience is not our own [fire-safety] community.

We [invited] very high-level architects and structural engineers who aren’t fire-safety people who are broadly in charge of the conceptual design of these incredible structures. So we had for instance Bill Baker, who was the structural engineer on the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. And David Scott, who was Arup’s top tall-building designer.

What we realised was that they are our audience. When we talked to them about things that we felt weren’t right, they had no idea that this was the case. They existed with the presumption that everybody is doing the right thing. And the look on their faces was like, ‘We can’t believe that the people who we think are in charge of this actually don’t have the answers that we assume they’ve been operating under.’

And we’ve had [attendees] subsequently partner with us on research grants because [they’ve] become such proponents of this more open-minded thinking.

One of the things we realised was that the architects don’t seem to have any real sense of the extent to which these things are influencing their conceptual thinking.

The fire safety regulations that architects just default to fundamentally dictates the floorplan of every building they design.

They don’t think about it in the context that that travel distance is based on some absurd historical rule from the late 1800s that makes no rational sense in the modern world, and that with a little bit of thinking they could totally get away from. And yet every building they design are designed fundamentally on this basis. When we told them this, they couldn’t believe it.

The outcome of these discussions is that Foster & Partners, incredibly, three months ago hired one of our PhD students to be in-house fire-safety technical guidance. Fosters, until recently, didn’t employ engineers at all.

So how about the future of your work; where do you see it leading?

Well, I’ve just started a PhD project with someone from Arup Fire, where the Arup Fire person is someone who graduated from our course two years ago and is now supervising the student here, so it sort of comes full circle where the graduate now is involved in the research programme again.

Do you think you have a chance of changing those regulations that you feel are stifling innovation?

Changing the regulations is a career-long objective I think; that’s not going to happen in two or three years. But there are all sorts of positive signs. For instance the hiring of this person at Foster’s; the fact that guys who work for the best architectural practices in the US are really proactive about this now; the fact that we are producing 20-25 graduates a year who have the skills and the attitude and the knowledge that’s needed to make this happen; and the fact that every single one of them is getting a job and we’re being asked for 10 more and can’t supply them. We just don’t have the people.

So the fact that the industry is screaming for people who have the skills that we have intentionally given them to make the change we want I think can only lead to that change happening eventually.

Science and Sport: harnessing the London Olympics


An initiative that plans to harness the London 2012 Olympics in order to engage and inspire young people in science, engineering and technology (SET) has received a grant of £10,000 from The Ove Arup Foundation.

‘100 Years of Sport Innovation: Showcasing how science has transformed sport’ is an initiative aimed at exploring the ways in which SET can improve sporting achievement, and how it has revolutionised both sports equipment and performance over the years.

The pilot project, organised by Equalitec, part of the Portia organisation, will focus on ten schools in London’s Hackney – an area that will be affected strongly by the 2012 Olympics. The project will draw comparisons between the London Olympics of 1908, 1948 and 2012, combining online resources with real-world events, in a bid to stimulate debate and improve the quality of education in SET.

Dr Elizabeth Pollitzer (pictured), who is director at Portia/Equalitec, declared the award “a godsend… it has been essential in setting up the pilot project.”

“Hackney is one of the most deprived areas in London, and we want to take the Olympics, which the students are already engaged with, and use that to develop an interest in SET.

“We are working with the Institutions of Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering to send volunteer engineers into ten schools in Hackney to work with the pupils and encourage them to discuss future innovations.

“Our initial hope is for the pilot project to be a success, so that we can repurpose it and roll it out across the UK.”

Speaking of the direct benefits of the Ove Arup Foundation’s award, Dr Pollitzer explained: “One of the most difficult things is to gather the funds to get an idea across in the first place. When you can do that and attract organisations like the ICE and IMechE you can achieve so much more than you would have.”

Mathematics in the University Education of Engineers

Kent-Noss-reportMathematics in the University Education of Engineers
Dr Phillip Kent & Prof Richard Noss – Report Summary

Advances in the use of information technology and computers have transformed engineering analytical techniques, and production and management processes. As these advances continue, opportunities will be generated for all engineers, both in the way knowledge can be acquired, and then applied.

The role of mathematics in engineering education is a major opportunity. There has been much recent debate on what mathematical skills are needed for the engineers of tomorrow, and how and when these might best be acquired. Against this background of problem and opportunity, the Trustees of The Ove Arup Foundation commissioned this study from Prof Richard Noss and Dr Phillip Kent, both mathematics educators at the Institute of Education, University of London.

The report outlines a situation ripe for change, and indicates that professional engineers will need to develop greater interdisciplinary understanding, and acquire more specialist skills. An intuitive understanding of the sciences that underpin the art of engineering, it says, will in turn require the mathematical skills necessary to apply these sciences.

A copy of the report can be downloaded below.

Mathematics in the University Education of Engineers (840KB pdf)

Attracting the best and brightest

NethercotReportAttracting the best and brightest
Professor David Nethercot & Dr David Lloyd Smith – Report Summary

In 1999 the Trustees of the Ove Arup Foundation published a report highlighting the serious decline in applications from bright young people to study engineering, and especially built-environment courses. A particularly serious skill-shortage lies within the building services specialities.

Read about the original report, ‘Interdisciplinary Skills For Built Environment Professionals’, and download it from the link (left).

Now, a further report, also commissioned by the Trustees from Prof David Nethercot and Dr David Lloyd Smith of Imperial College, London, draws together several strains of thought, informed by insights from the 1999 report. It examines how a course could be constructed that: encourages greater interdisciplinarity; further develops creative thinking; and can be accredited together by the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Structural Engineers, and the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers.

Copies of both the original and the follow-up reports, as well as a supplementary document, can be downloaded from below.

Interdisciplinary Skills For Built Environment Professionals (9.7MB pdf)

Attracting the best and brightest (432KB pdf)

‘Teaching creative design’ and ‘Attracting the best and brightest’ (3.7MB pdf) – a joint presentation by Imperial College and the Ove Arup Foundation.