It's Architecture Week and the most quoted architectural soundbite is Norman Foster's insistence that preventing the wobble on the Millennium Bridge is 'definitely Arup's job'. The attempt to emphasise the separation between architecture and engineering is misjudged, especially from an architect whose success has been built largely on an understanding of the relationship between the two. How ironic that a man with so much technological know-how should be adding fuel to a prejudice which architects have been trying to shake off: that where bridges are concerned, the architect's role is to deliver persuasive and beautiful drawings, and perhaps to specify the handrails.
The Foster office, of course, played a fundamental role in the creation of the Millennium Bridge and is, in part, responsible for the project's breathtaking beauty, as much as for its embarrassing tendency to sway. It may be Arup's job to sort the wobble out, but it was not solely Arup's job to predict that such vast numbers of people would attempt to cross the bridge last weekend. Anybody who visited Tate Modern during its first days must have been aware of the current enthusiasm for new monuments. It can't have taken too much imagination to predict the crowd-pulling power of the Millennium Bridge.
But the failure to predict initial visitor numbers could have been overlooked if the architect had not committed a fundamental public relations blunder.
Surely this would have been the time for Foster to calm the media with confident reassurances that the team is 'on the case'. When the Millennium Wheel ran into lastminute problems, David Marks and Julia Barfield lept into the limelight. The public watched, fascinated by the process of architects and engineers, between them, overcoming seemingly insurmountable problems. Tony Fitzpatrick of Arup's demonstrated a touching faith when he told the London Evening Standard : 'I'm sure Norman has been telling you that the design team has been working together on this.' Sadly, that's not the story that's coming through.
The clearest message to come out of Architecture Week is that architects run from trouble, but you can rely on an engineer to sort things out.