DESIGNING WITH 'WOW' FACTOR
'Pushing engineering further, and in doing so, fulfiling the potential of the architect's vision is very much part of our aspiration,' says Michael Dickson, chairman of Buro Happold since 1996.
Dickson, known across the industry for his cheerful enthusiasm and wide knowledge-base, is a founding partner of Buro Happold, who helped to set up the practice with Ted Happold back in 1976. With 11 other partners, he is responsible for developing Buro Happold as a practice known for its innovative engineering solutions.
'Engineering should be a combination of turbulence and organisation,' he explains. 'Turbulence is a dynamic in terms of engineering design - we need to encourage unstructured, at times explosive, energy in our teams to achieve true creative potential, to push innovation that little bit further, to inspire new thought and spark new ideas. These processes are the bedrock of our engineering, allowing us not only to fulfil the true vision of the architect, but to stretch our engineers so that they achieve their own level of satisfaction and personal development in terms of knowledge and skills, along the way.'
Dickson speaks of his turbulence theory safe in the knowledge that the whirlwinds of creativity running through the practice are securely channelled by a firm organisation and strong networks of communication. Workgroups and a holistic team ethic are crucial to the organisation. Dickson explains that the company has strong foundations with 'a flat hierarchy, allowing engineers, graduates, partners and support staff to work closely to drive a project forward. Intellect and creativity are only able to express themselves freely - and to be accountable for its vision - when there is a firm base. Talent is a fragile and valuable commodity, and we strive to make sure that it is given room to grow, in a well managed way, within Buro Happold.'
The practice has blossomed in recent years, adding new disciplines, commissioning research and undertaking mould-breaking projects. Profile has soared as the most famous job on the books - the Millennium Dome - comes even more centre stage in the public eye, with all structural, civil, geotechnical and building-services engineering falling under the direction of partner Ian Liddell. 'Ian has certainly been enjoying a good year,' says Dickson. 'He has a great intellect, and was already a world authority on lightweight structures before the Dome - I think that this project has given him more personal and professional satisfaction than can be quantified.'
Dickson believes the balance of turbulence and organisation within the practice is one reason why, having recruited gifted engineers, people chose to stay with Buro Happold for long periods, if not most of their careers. 'We really enjoy what we do, and as designers, we make sure that we do it well. I am especially pleased by our success in bringing many younger, highly gifted women and men on board recently - bringing the 'wow' factor to building engineering is a cross-generation thing.'