Aerial view of Brisbane's award-winning Kurilpa Bridge illuminated at night. Copyright Department of Public Works.

+ Engineers and designers have played a pivotal role in mitigating the worst impacts of the year's most extreme events.

As the end of 2011 rolls around, I’ve been reflecting on what we’ve all been through in the past 12 months – not just within the firm, but across our communities.

Off the top of my head, I can’t remember a year with just quite so many massive events going on – extreme weather, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, the Arab Spring and other political upheavals around the globe, combined with an unprecedented period of economic volatility. I keep finding myself thinking “what a year!”

It gets even more interesting when you consider the pivotal role that engineers and designers play in all this – not just in mitigating the worst impacts of some of these events, but ensuring that we build toward a better future as well.

From well defined work such as ensuring seismic buildings codes are up to scratch (and being followed) all the way through to building toward lower carbon economies to minimise climate change impacts, many of us in Arup find ourselves front and centre of events.

Yet it extends much further than that. Take the IT infrastructure that has helped drive communication and globalisation. Without it, the Arab Spring may never have happened. At the same time, infrastructure investment is driving globalisation – with all its attendant upsides and downsides – bringing people in societies across the world closer together.

Even in the case of global economic volatility, countries such as India and China switched from being worried about inflation at the start of the year to joining their western counterparts in worrying about jobs and growth as 2011 comes to a close. As a result, there is huge interest in competitiveness and infrastructure spending.

All this puts engineers firmly at the heart of the growth agenda. It also provides us with a vital opportunity – and responsibility – to maximise the benefits while ensuring that we deliver progress in the most sustainable, responsible manner we can imagine.

Life is rarely black and white, but I like to think that we designers and engineers do a great deal of good. Here are just a few projects that we’ve been involved with over the past year that I believe exemplify the positive influence we can have on society.

  • The New Economics of Cities Report – a roadmap for developing ‘smart cities’ of the future to minimise waste and promote growth by unleashing the potential of data.
  • The opening of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation building in the USA – one of the world’s most sustainable buildings, reflecting the tremendous ambitions of its owners build a better world.
  • HaloIPT – boosting the prospects for the introduction of electric vehicles by developing a great idea for induction charging technology.
  • Kurilpa Bridge in Brisbane – a beautiful marriage of maths, engineering and urban design.
  • The grand opening of the Guangzhou International Finance Centre in China – underlining the impact that engineers can have in supporting economic development of countries around the globe.

 What would you choose?