The first happened before my article was published. On 11 September, the Institution of Civil Engineers held a reception at its Westminster headquarters, hosted by its president George Fleming, at which the main speaker was arts minister Alan Howarth. The main purpose of the evening was to honour nine great engineers by carving their names in stone on the walls above the main staircase of the institution.
This was not a new idea. Thirty-four engineering giants were already honoured there, including Telford and Stephenson. Eight of the nine new names – including Sir Alexander Gibb and Sir Ove Arup – were 20th-century figures. The exception was Sir Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891), the designer of London's sewers, the Thames embankments and several bridges, who saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people from cholera or flooding.
It was appropriate that all these towering figures should be immortalised in this way. Great architects tend to be remembered longer than great engineers. Sir Charles Barry's Palace of Westminster is a world-renowned icon of design and his statue adorns a main staircase of the Commons. Bazalgette, who was working a decade after Barry, enabled the parliamentarians to debate in their new building without the stench of sewage of the previous centuries.
His name, however, is not so famous. Both were giants of design.
The second incident was a letter from a reader, Steve Dixon of JDP Building Services Consultants (20 October, page 35), who gently took me to task for failing to mention the building services engineer. He was right to do so, although I would plead in mitigation that I also write a regular column on M&E in Building's sister magazine Electrical and Mechanical Contractor.
Building services engineering, whether through the conceptual design of the consultant or the detailed drawings of the specialist engineering contractor, is a vital but unfashionable part of the construction process. Many projects run into trouble through failure to integrate services engineering design at the earliest possible stage, with the subsequent need to rework the initial proposals. All the more reason to integrate the full team at the beginning, a message which I continually plug in seminars week after week.
Many projects run into trouble through failure to integrate services engineering design at the earliest possible stage
It is worrying that services engineering is struggling to attract students to university courses. Several excellent faculties are short of applicants and some have closed. This problem is not just one for the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers or the universities themselves.
It should be a high priority for support and encouragement from the government, the Construction Industry Board and the Construction Industry Council. Who wants a new hospital or other high-tech building where the M&E is overspent, late in commissioning or less than efficient in operation?
There are other parties to a project who are often marginalised or brought in too late: the landscape architect and the facilities manager.
I have been proud to be closely associated with the Landscape Institute as an honorary fellow since 1997. The landscape architect brings harmony and charm to construction projects, through both hard and soft landscaping, and also brings considerable pleasure to the end users or occupiers.
How often is the designer or the landscape contractor involved at an early stage of design? All too often, the reality is that he or she is seen as the person who puts in the shrubs or the external paving at the last minute. Such work tends to be the first target for spending cuts.
The soft landscaping is not always respected or well treated by other people on site. But whether the landscape is the massive vision of Capability Brown or Humphrey Repton, or whether it is a sole practitioner lovingly designing a small garden area in a new school or an industrial estate, the work will be of great importance to the generations that follow. Landscape design deserves much earlier involvement in the project team, especially in best-practice partnering.