Experienced and award-winning Chartered Structural Engineer with a commitment to Client-centric design and project delivery. I continually strive to understand Client needs and exceed expectations using a blend of creativity and innovation, with a focus on quality and an attention to detail.

Monday, 27 April 2015

850 years of history in ruins...

You may already have noticed that I enjoy regular weekend excursions with the family and am a keen amateur photographer. We enjoy walking in the 'great outdoors' and visiting places of historical interest; a few of my photo montages from previous visits have been posted on this site and can be found in the archive section.

Well this weekend we took a trip to the incredible World Heritage site of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Park in Yorkshire. The sun was shining brightly and offered some great opportunities for photographs, a few of which I share with you below.

East Window and Huby's Tower
Fountains Abbey is one of the largest and and best preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England. The earliest parts of the monastery were constructed 1132-1140, making them over 850 years old. 

West Window and Cellarium
Following the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1539, Fountains Abbey was sold off by the state in 1540 for the sum of £11000, on condition that it was made unsuitable for religious use. The roofs were pulled down shortly after with materials sold off, leaving the building in the largely ruinous state it can be seen in today. 

Fountains Abbey Nave
The Muniment Room
In the 18th Century the Abbey was sold off to William Aislaby who combined it with the Studley Royal Estate. The impressive estate, a "masterpiece of human creative genius", is now listed on the World Heritage List as a site of international significance and includes the ruined abbey along with strikingly beautiful 18th Century designed landscapes and water gardens.

Studley Royal Water Garden
The Temple of Piety
The Abbey from the East
This is certainly a site we will be visiting again in the future. Have you been to Fountains Abbey? I'd love to hear your experiences and your recommendations for further sites to visit.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Automation in Engineering Design

As a structural engineer I'm always looking for ways to improve output presentation and quality and automate repetitive tasks. My weapon of choice in this respect is Microsoft Excel and I've produced many engineering spreadsheets to reduce time spent on regular day-to-day calculations. I started programming at just a few years old using an old Acorn Electron and armed with a book of programmable games; a world away from the games our children are brought up with these days!

This inbuilt desire to always find a better way of doing things has led me to create a number of more advanced spreadsheets that not only use Excel but also the Visual Basic programming language that runs behind the main software. This allows for the creation of buttons and forms and some more advanced macro features.

Spreadsheets I've created include an advanced electronic Bar Bending Schedule for concrete detailing, design spreadsheets for concrete slabs and other useful tools such as my advanced Document Issue Register.

Automation is a powerful tool for engineers that has the double advantage of reducing production times and reducing human error. Whilst engineering software gets more and more complex and more and more expensive, engineers can create their very own bespoke design software using innovation and widely available tools like Microsoft Office.

The issue register is the first of my spreadsheets that I'm making freely available for download through this website. I'd love to know what you think of it and if you find it useful then please let me know. I'd also be interested to hear your own stories about engineering automation, spreadsheets or anything else that you use to speed up design and reduce errors.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

York visit

Those who know me know that I'm interested in contemporary and classical architecture and am also a keen amateur photographer. I enjoy taking photos of buildings and sharing them with you.

This weekend we took a family trip to the historic city of York. Founded by the Romans in AD71 and later occupied by the Vikings, the city has a rich history and a wealth of historic buildings and sites. A few hours was not nearly long enough to see all that York has to offer so we will definitely be returning in the future. Below are a few of my photos from the impressive York Minster and Clifford's Tower, the original keep and only remaining part of York Castle, built by William the Conqueror in 1068. Let me know if you'd like to see more posts like this on the site.

The Decorated Gothic west elevation of York Minster

The Nave, York Minster

The North Transept, York Minster

Ceiling to the Chapter House, York Minster

C15 'Kings' Screen, York Minster

Clifford's Tower, the keep of York Castle

Monday, 9 March 2015

Is reversibility a valid conservation principle?

In February I made a post titled 'Minimum intervention: or the art of doing less'. The post sparked some interesting debate on the value of conservation principles. It was suggested there is a discord between the idea of being able to reverse modern interventions and the likelihood of those reversals ever being implemented. On one hand is the view that it is often unlikely that modern interventions will later be removed whilst on the other hand, reversibility is a fundamental conservation principle that seeks to protect heritage assets from permanent harm whilst recognising the necessity of change.

The best method for keeping historic buildings in a good state of repair is their continued usefulness and occupation. For this to occur it is necessary to continually maintain, alter, extend and modernise the building stock to bring older buildings towards modern performance standards and prevent redundancy.

"Reversible changes should be considered temporary. Non 
reversible change should only be used as a last resort and 
should not prevent future conservation action" - Burra Charter

Reversibility is the philosophy that an intervention can later be removed as if the intervention had never occurred, leaving no indelible harm to the asset. It must be appreciated that the works we carry out to buildings today, based on current demand, current trends and a current understanding of historical significance, is but a short period in the lifetime of a historic building. If we recognise that the changes we make today are only temporary then we should also recognise that those changes should avoid, where possible, any permanent harm to the historical significance of the building fabric or the use of the building.

Another theme here is the idea that we are only custodians of the historic buildings we inherit and it is our responsibility to maintain them, and often to develop them, for the enjoyment of future generations rather than only for our short-term needs or gains.

"The principle of reversibility should be used, for example, new insertions, 
such as sub-dividing walls, should be contoured around original features and 
mouldings so they can be removed in the future, leaving the original fabric intact" 
- BS 7913:2013 cl. 6.16

To re-state one of the valuable comments made on my previous post, principles are merely guidelines for those involved in the conservation of historic buildings. There can be no one-size-fits-all solution; every building and every project must be assessed on its individual merits. By the appointment of suitably qualified and experienced conservation professionals, familiar with the 'principles' of conservation, one can be more assured that the historical building stock is in safer hands than it might otherwise be. Reversibility is one of those principles and without it we would be opening up important historic building fabric to the possibility of permanent and damaging change that might be avoided by careful and conservation-minded management. 

Furthermore, reversibility permits modern interventions in historic buildings as part of carefully managed change, without this ideal historians might otherwise promote a philosophy of zero change in order to safeguard historic properties.

Wouldn't you agree that reversibility is undoubtedly a valid and important conservation principle, regardless of whether modern interventions are ever likely to be reversed or not? Let me know your thoughts.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

No end in sight for destruction of world heritage?

Destruction of world heritage has hit the media headlines again this week as Islamic State are claimed not only to have destroyed the Assyrian City of Nimrud but also to have destroyed ruins at the ancient city of Hatra, both in Iraq.

In 2013/14 I carried out research in to the effectiveness of international cultural property protection and concluded that the Hague Convention, the only international convention dealing with the protection of heritage in times of war, was ineffective and could not be expected to provide any meaningful level of protection.

"In its current form, it is not considered that the Hague Convention can in 
any way be expected to be successful in preventing damage and 
destruction of sites of Outstanding Universal Value or any other site of 
local, national or international significance"
- Lee Meadowcroft

My research demonstrated there to be a clear lack of clarity in what sites were offered protection and how that protection could be provided. Safeguarding, or peacetime preparation, is a fundamental strategy of protection and if significant planning has not been carried out there is no hope for heritage when conflict escalates to war.

For legislation to be effective it must be clear and enforceable. It is regrettable that no protection can be completely effective but more can and must be done. Development of improved heritage protection will take many years to complete and will require a great deal of coordinated research in to peacetime preparation, engagement with states, the intent and capacity of a state to comply with regulations, clarity of information and the dissemination of international law through domestic legislation and military manuals. Improvements must also be made in the way cultural property damage is reported in the media and condemned by governments.

Further information on my research can be found here, and the full research can be downloaded by following the link below:

The Impact of Conflict on Cultural Property

I'd love to hear your thoughts on what you think can be done to safeguard world heritage in times of armed conflict.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Five tips to improve your report writing

Most engineers and technical professionals can write reports but how many are confident they do it well? It's not the content that most struggle with but rather the process of placing and ordering words on the page. Having written well over 100 technical reports and other documents I share below some of my own tips to help you improve your writing skills.

1. Just make a start

So you have a new report to write but where do you start? There are so many points to consider and it's not always clear how best to present them. My advice is simple... start writing with what you know and let the format follow later. It's not necessary to write sequentially from start to finish and once you have chunks of text to organise you can then place them in a logical order. When I'm writing a new report I like to set out my headings and then add bullet points whenever an idea comes to mind. It's easy to procrastinate because you can't visualise the finished article but don't... just get on and write and let the format sort itself out later.

2. The beginning, the middle and the end

Writing a report is like telling a story; it needs to follow a sequence that explains to the reader what you have been asked to do, what you have done, what you think about what you have done and then tell them again the key points of what you have already told them.

All reports should start with an introduction, a clearly defined brief that sets the scene for the rest of the document. Use the introduction to set out why you are writing the report, who for and the location of the building/site/etc.

The main bulk of the report is your observations and analysis; the technical content of what you did and what you think about it. This section may be supported by photographs, drawings and calculations which should be included as appendices so not to detract from the flow of the text. Personally I like to include photographs within the text so the reader can continue reading page-by-page without having to refer elsewhere.

Finally come the conclusions and recommendations, this is where you repeat the key points from what you've already stated throughout the report. Typically this section should include a recap of the brief, a commentary on your observations and analysis and your recommendations. Conclusions are not the place to introduce new content; everything you put here should already have been discussed in the main body of the report.

3. Keep in tense

You're telling a story remember; when you visited a site or attended a meeting it happened in the past. All of your observations about what you saw and did should be written in the past tense; this is important because you're painting a picture of what you experienced at a given moment in time. Someone else observing the same thing at a different point in time may have had a different experience.

By the same token, your analysis and discussion should be kept in the present tense and your recommendations are for the future. Consistency is key; if you want your report to flow from beginning to end then it should follow the format of what you did, what you think and then what you recommend.

4. Be confident and precise

Everything you write should add value to the finished report. Avoid waffle and speculation and only comment on things within your own area of expertise. Be confident in your conclusions and wherever possible avoid indecisive or ambiguous terminology. If your report is clearly and honestly presented and written with confidence it should leave the reader with no doubt what you are telling them and what your recommendations are. If you can reasonably justify what you have written then your report will stand up to scrutiny by others, on the other hand if it contains ambiguity or the key points are difficult to follow then your report will lack credibility and leave you open to criticism. Always read and re-read your report to make sure it clearly articulates the points you are trying to make.

5. Presentation gives credibility to content

Although the content of a report is critical and is, after all, what you've been paid to produce, never underestimate the significance of presentation. The visual appearance, grammatical accuracy and readability of your report implies a level of quality to the reader. Poor presentation is indicative of a lack of quality and attention to detail; if you haven't made the effort to ensure your report looks professional then how can the reader by confident you have made enough effort to ensure the content is up to standard?

As a minimum, reports should typically contain a front page with project details, contents page, numbered headings, page numbers and figure references. Figures and appendices should be referenced in the text to clearly demonstrate the purpose for their inclusion. Finally, when borrowing content from elsewhere, always make reference to the original source both to identify the content as not being your own and to allow the reader to seek out the original source and context.


Report writing is an important technical skill for engineers and other professionals but many struggle to articulate their technical expertise in a concise written format. The best way to improve your skills is through experience and once you've found a format you're comfortable with this can be refined and re-used over time for many different applications. Always critically appraise your own work before letting others see it and don't allow yourself to be put off by the scale of the task. I hope you've found my tips useful and look forward to hearing your own report writing advice.