His life, his work, his influence and his legacy
Sir Ove Arup, philosopher and engineer, made an enormous impact during his long and fruitful life on the attitudes of those concerned with the design of the built environment.
A formidable perfectionist, warm, self-depreciating, scrupulously – sometimes brutally – honest, Ove’s ability to inspire was remarkable. He commanded great loyalty and affection from those who worked with him. He was born in 1895, the son of the Danish Consul in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and was educated in Germany and later Denmark.
His took his first degree in philosophy and mathematics at the University of Copenhagen. He then considered studying architecture but was unsure of his artistic talents. He moved to the Royal Technical College in Copenhagen to study engineering, deciding he would rather be a good engineer than a second-rate architect. On graduating, Ove joined the Danish civil engineers Christiani & Nielsen in their Hamburg office. In 1923 he moved to the London office as chief designer, and his interest in modernist architecture grew.
In 1933 Berthold Lubetkin invited Ove to collaborate on Highpoint 1: a block of apartments in Highgate Village. By applying reinforced concrete techniques learnt from major civil engineering projects, he created a innovative structure of load-bearing reinforced concrete walls. These were cast on-site with the use of a movable system of wooden formwork.
In 1938, Ove and his cousin Arne set up Arup & Arup Ltd, a firm of engineers and contractors. Eight years later, in 1946, he established the firm now known as Arup.
Ove designed his engineering solutions intuitively and then proved them mathematically. Preferring to bounce ideas around, he would brandish his thick pencil, and his sketches would cause further ideas to come pouring out.
He was renowned for his inability to finish sentences — the Danish accent he never lost increasing with his excitement. One of Ove’s early Partners, Sir Jack Zunz, wrote of him: ‘looking back over his life and work, one comes back again and again to his passion for quality and his quest for excellence in all that he did — personal and professional.’