This week, Arup hopes to swap icons for estates, the most expensive Christmas party decorations ever, and a lesson in the dark arts of bridge refurbishment
Arup's social conscience
I hear Arup is shifting focus. The consultant feels it has become too associated with iconic structures such as the Millennium Bridge and the Imperial War Museum North.

Instead, it wants to do normal projects, such as housing. Arup engineer Roger Ridsdill-Smith tells me that Project Meteor, the concrete prefab housing system we covered a few weeks ago (15 November, page 62, to be precise), is a step in that direction.

Apparently, today's young engineers are itching to get their teeth into socially useful projects and "off-site manufacture" has replaced "iconic structure" as the hot topic in the Arup canteen. And there's no connection with the wobbly bridge fiasco, of course.

Olive branch from the East
Good to see old rivals Canary Wharf and the City of London working together for once. Canary Wharf has lent a helping hand to Swiss Re, Lord Foster's dramatic skyscraper in the City, which was topped out two weeks ago. The piazza at the base of the tower is to be enhanced by a number of mature swamp cypress trees – provided by Canary Wharf. And what prompted this heartwarming gesture? "We had some spare and we sold them on," says Tony Partington, Canary Wharf's estate manager and clearly a bit of a softie.

Spiralling costs
Word reaches me of a heated debate over Daniel Libeskind's landmark spiral planned for the Victoria & Albert Museum. It seems that the client has called in Peter Rogers, Stanhope director and strategic forum chairman, to advise it on the best procurement route. Not surprisingly, Rogers backs construction management, given the complexity of the proposed scheme. But I hear the museum is favouring a fixed-price contract, obviously worried that the thing will go hideously over budget and repeat the financial disaster that befell the first wave of millennium projects.

The man in the mole
Mowlem has come up with a clever way of teaching kids safety tips at schools neighbouring its construction sites. The company sends a person dressed up as a mole – "Mole M" to give him his full title – to dish out the instructions.

Unfortunately, the furry costume has turned out to be rather hot and sweaty for the unfortunate rodent impersonator. But those clever people at Mowlem have solved that one – they've installed fans inside the its head.

Dull metal jacket
While Sheffield celebrates the opening of its splendid Winter Garden (see pages 18-19), another recent landmark languishes nearby. Branson Coates' National Centre for Pop Music (right) has been mothballed for nearly six months – and its stainless steel jacket is looking a tad jaded. Sheffield's wealth, of course, was founded on steel, so it's ironic that the building that was supposed to signify its rebirth is so tarnished.

Wow, great decorations!
The accolade for best Christmas party of the season (so far) goes to White Young Green – but it's a pity the guests didn't appreciate it. The consulting engineer's venue was London's Somerset House, where the priceless collection of Sir Robert Walpole is on display until February when it is returned to the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The assembled throng ignored the Rembrandts, Rubens and Van Dycks, however, and spent the entire evening in the entrance hall swigging champagne. Philistines.

Another hat on me 'ead, son
Wilcon's Allan Leighton wears a lot of hats – he's also chairman of Consignia and non-executive director of BHS, BSkyB, Cannon, Dyson and Now it seems he fancies himself as a football coach. Leighton is deputy chairman of Leeds United, and there's a rumour that he's been berating players for their performances during half-time team talks. Leighton denies the rumour but with manager Terry Venables' position increasingly vulnerable and Leighton on record as saying "drastic action" may have to be taken, I wonder if he is planning to invest in a sheepskin coat?

The night shift

Construction is still stuck in the dark ages – especially if you're building bridges. At a recent conference held by the British Constructional Steel Association, speaker after speaker showed slides of sites that supposedly featured steel bridges under construction. I say “supposedly” because most of the shots were taken at night. Neil Sadler of engineer Cass Heywood explained that refurbishment work always takes place at night, when the bridges are not in service. He added: “We're used to looking at bridges in the dark.” Do bridge engineers eat a lot of carrots?