Chartered Structural Engineer with an interest in challenging and unusual projects, delivered with a focus on quality and an attention to detail. Also likes reading, walking, history, football & NFL. All views and content my own.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Snowden Climb 2018

On 25th March I'l be part of a team climbing Snowden to help Manchester architect Steve Burne raise £250k to refurbish three living areas at the Ronald McDonald Manchester House. The rooms will become the Steve Burne Rooms and will help keep families together and close to their children in hospital.

Steve was diagnosed with cancer in May 2017 which has since spread and become terminal in October. Time is precious.

For over 15 years, Steve has been involved with Ronald McDonald House Charities, for the past five years as Chair of the Manchester House Board of Governors. Steve has a passion for keeping families together, close to their children in hospital.

In Steve's words...."Although devastated by the cancer prognosis this year, I am lucky to be here having survived several cardiac arrests in October. My time is limited and I want to work hard to leave a lasting legacy, something that will have an impact for many years to come. So along with friends and family we are hoping to raise £250,000 for Ronald McDonald House, Manchester so we can help keep families together, close to their children in hospital."

Please visit my Justgiving Page to support this great cause.

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.