The future faces of construction

November 5th, 2014 | 5 min read

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This week marks a shift in the world of construction and engineering. Tomorrow’s Engineers Week runs from 3-7 November, with an aim to change perceptions about what is involved in the design and build of a project.

After the immense success of the 2013 project, industry experts are confident that children across the UK will be inspired to follow in the footsteps of the design heroes that work to improve lives through innovative design and clever creation.

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If ever there was a project that could inspire our future generations, it is the Brighton i360. Our futuristic tower is at the forefront of design and we hope that it will be instrumental in inspiring Brighton and Hove schoolchildren to consider a career in engineering or construction.

Chief Engineer John Roberts said: “One of the wonderful things about the Brighton i360 is how visible it will be. Standing tall in the heart of Brighton and Hove, our incredibly slender tower is going to have the proportions of a knitting needle. Rising to the top, the huge glass pod will seem to almost defy the laws of gravity. It will constantly challenge people to ask questions: How does it balance? How can people move around inside without it toppling? How does it stand in the wind? This is engineering at its most exciting – bold, innovative and changing the landscape.”

It’s important that people do ask questions. John is a FREng (a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering), who recently commissioned  a report to find out more about how engineering fits into the curriculum. Engineering skills are in great demand from employers, with over 2.5 million estimated job openings in engineering companies by 2022. Despite this, many children are still unaware of exactly what being an engineer means.

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Although children naturally gravitate towards building blocks, test the weight of different surfaces (usually with their own bodies) and use their imagination to create and draw new buildings or vehicles, the report, undertaken by Winchester University, shows that we do not encourage that mind-set to continue. With a few exceptions, engineering does not appear on the timetables of pupils of primary or lower secondary age in the UK, unless engineering projects are used to teach aspects of design and technology (D&T) or to demonstrate the real-world application of mathematics and science. Even secondary school teaching is highly variable and children are not encouraged to think like engineers.

John continued: “Engineering is not just for mathematical wizards and it certainly isn’t just for boys. Did you know that women currently represent only about 10% of the engineering workforce? It seems incredible that although they do just as well in maths and science tests, an engineering gender gap still exists. We must help to show children that the industry is changing, it is exciting and it is something many of them will be very good at.”

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The report suggest that the skills needed to ‘think like an engineer’ are easily identified and that an understanding of this is key to the way we redesign the curriculum to nurture the next generation of engineers. Now more than ever, schools and businesses must get out there and work together to inspire future generations. The i360 team wholeheartedly support this.

John reinforces this: “Engineering is about ideas. You see something that could work better, or perhaps have an idea about something new that might solve a problem. You may, like we did with the i360, have an idea about something that would offer an incredible experience. You then take that germ of an idea and work out how you go about creating it, dealing with the challenges and adapting your idea along the way. How can we build a tower on a shingle beach? How can we manage the windy south coast weather and still keep our tower just 4.5metre diameter across? How do we keep it safe and reliable? It’s a puzzle, but that’s what an engineer loves!”

One way in which we hope to engage schools is to actively encourage them to get involved with the project. For Brighton and Hove students particularly, this is a building that will become part of their lives – an iconic piece of architecture in the city they grew up in.

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John said: “We hope to launch school visits in 2015 so that children can learn more about the i360 while it is in the construction phase. There is so much going on that they could learn about – from how we incorporate a Victorian sewer system into our foundations to the innovative way we are going to build the tower: from the top down. Every stage of the build has its own challenges and to get involved at the start will offer a fantastic learning experience.

“The i360 is an inspiring project and I have no doubt that it will trigger all sorts of design ideas from the children as they imagine what it will become. Of course they will all get a chance to see how it does end up; once built, we will offer a free ride to all state school children in Brighton and Hove area.”

If you are a Brighton and Hove school that is keen to find out more about potential school trips, please do get in touch at [email protected].