In a week of discoveries, war-time plans to rebuild the Forth Bridge are uncovered, a translucent wood for housing is invented, and the top engineer of the natural world revealed

Hansom HT

Clear thinking

I read with interest that Swedish chemists have developed a new kind of “translucent wood” that could revolutionise housing by allowing increased natural light into properties during the daytime. A manufacturing process for the balsa product removes a compound called lignin that prevents light from travelling through, resulting in wood that is “not quite transparent”, but which would give a strong increase in natural light. Better still, apparently, it is even stronger than Perspex. All well and good for hotter climes, but hardly a substitute for solid brick, gaslight and a roaring fire, I venture to suggest.

Walkie porkie

Elsewhere, I note that Mr Viñoly’s most curvaceous 20 Fenchurch Street tower has inspired a new hand-held communications device, dubbed the “walkie talkie”. So impressed was I with my hack’s online news story of 1 April that I sought to share - as I believe modern parlance has it - the story with a chum. Strangely I could not find the story again later in the day, after an admittedly exerting luncheon. My only concern for the development of a tower-themed hand-held communication device would be the livelihoods of the poor messenger boys such an innovation may replace.

Mayoral snub

The folks at the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) were quick to stick the knife into the two London mayoral candidates after they chose not to turn up for an infrastructure debate hosted by fellow professional body the Institution of Civil Engineers. The ACE issued an angry statement on Monday before the debate was due to begin that evening, saying Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan had shown a “dismissive and cavalier attitude” to the capital’s employment, housing and transport needs by pulling out of the event. Its statement also claimed “sources within the GLA have raised their concern at this dismissal of London infrastructure” to the ACE. An outraged Nelson Ogunshakin, the ACE’s chief executive, said he was “exceedingly disappointed” that neither of the candidates showed up for the debate.

King of the hill

Researchers have crowned the humble termite the “top engineer of the natural world”. The little critters have shown that they possess remarkable engineering skills, according to new research published in an ICE journal. The study by the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore involved a series of experiments to determine the termites’ capabilities in the construction of their homes/mounds. The insects’ use of biocementation and their choice of bricks showed them to be “quite extraordinary” engineers with their abilities to adapt to different building challenges and application of notable engineering intellect.

High-rise society

Architect Sir Terry Farrell is to give this year’s London Society keynote lecture. The London Society said Farrell will “join up the dots and reveal new connections between London’s past, present and future” during his lecture. Looking beyond the contribution of individual buildings to the city, Farrell will also talk about how the capital’s complex shape has evolved over time, and also reflect on current pressures on the city and its built environment. The lecture will take place on 8 November this year and tickets can be bought from the London Society website.

Forth bridge

Bridging the gap

Network Rail and VisitScotland are on a mission to find the origins of recently discovered 71-year-old plans to reconstruct the iconic Forth Bridge. The blueprints, which date back to 1945, were unearthed by engineers working on designs for a new visitor facility and show a structure similar to Australia’s Sydney Harbour Bridge. The ambitious plans, which would have seen the equivalent of building three Sydney Harbour Bridges back to back, are attributed to the “Engineers Department Edinburgh” and it has been speculated that they were drawn up in case the Forth Bridge was blown up in the Second World War Anyone with possible information is asked to email