Canadian Consulting Engineer

Gherkins and hanging gardens show up in Toronto

December 10, 2004
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

The Engineering Roundtable held at Construct Canada on December 1 treated the lunch attendees to an impressive slid...

The Engineering Roundtable held at Construct Canada on December 1 treated the lunch attendees to an impressive slide show of extraordinary building designs from around the world, as well as some straight talk on fees and competition.
About 150 people attended the event, which was a new venture for the Construct Canada organizers and showed that engineering events can be much more exciting than the typical technical presentations.
Julian Sutherland of Arup Associates showed a wide-angle view of the “Arup Skyline,” with a montage of tall and large buildings the U.K. based engineering company has designed around the world. There were structures of every shape and form, from the recent London “Gherkin,” to the still lyrical Sydney Opera House, to a row of some strangely mysterious timber buildings Arup has designed for a Pacific Island and which looked like sentinels from another world. There was a huge bridge-block structure in Holland that they had designed with architect Rem Koolhaas, and a tall “stick” residence in India with hanging gardens. One of the more conventional structures was a “twisted” office building at the Battersea Power Station complex in London. Sutherland explained that the client presented them with a paradox: they wanted a speculative office building that would also be a signature building. Their answer was to design the standard office building, but twist it into an odd shape.
Closer to home, but using just as much exciting innovation, Arup is working with Halsall Associates of Toronto on the Chin Crystal addition to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
Almost as intriguing were the projects shown by another internationally recognized engineer, Norman Kurtz of Flack & Kurtz in New York. One of his projects is the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, which he worked on with Adamson Associates architects of Toronto. Kurtz is a mechanical engineer with 30 years’ experience, but that long career hasn’t stopped him from innovating and enthusiastically pursuing the new sustainable green building designs.
Kurtz showed projects such as the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark., which is a sizzling metallic bridge structure (apparently the former president is an excellent client). He also showed the 959 Eighth Avenue building for the Hearst Corporation in New York, which Kurst is designing with the architect Norman Foster.
One of Kurtz’s favourite new design approaches, he said, is to use radiant floors and displacement heating in tall spaces, which he finds much more efficient than “blowing a lot of air around.” The 959 Eighth Avenue building has an eight storey atrium inside the facade of a historic structure on the site and it is heated using radiant floor heat and waste heat from the office tower.
The third speaker was Eric Gordon of Yolles. He described the firm’s business approach to international work — which makes up half of their total order books. To minimize the financial risks of international work they have attached themselves as part of a network of consortia of multi-disciplinary teams rather than to set up many satellite offices. Gordon said they also try to obtain some fees for “mobilization” at the front end of large international projects.
Someone in the audience wondered how engineers in Canada could do the kind of startling innovative work that Arup displays when there is such a downward pressure on designers’ fees in this country. Sutherland suggested that you can innovate but at the same time keep it simple and use local talents and construction practices. Kurtz suggested that when firms are young and starting out they have to go the extra mile to innovate, and then as they mature and establish a reputation they will be able to command the higher fees. Everyone agreed, though, that in North America developers and occupants are conservative and not so receptive to change as people are elsewhere in the world.


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