Skeletal Structures: The Essence of Engineering
An ubiquitous tower, a man who made towers and a huge telescope: three important skeletal structures
The definition of engineering is to use physical laws and materials in a creative and innovative fashion. This is embodied in the work of one man. Vladimir Shukhov started a brilliant but sadly unappreciated career in 1877 which encompassed inventing the theory of double-curved forms, applying it to hyperboloid towers such as his Moscow tower of 1922. Shukhov led the way in collaboration; he worked with the Constructivist architects of the day and did equally great work in the field of industrial design. Cooling towers around the world are literally a concrete manifestation of his ideas.
The Lovell Telescope
Typifying the Modernist credo that beauty comes when form follows function, the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank is a startlingly beautiful structure that is simply doing its job. Designed by engineer Charles Husband for astronomer Bernard Lovell, the huge 76-metre diameter dish sits on a delicate lattice work of steel. Despite huge cost over runs and construction delays, the telescope sealed its place in history when it tracked the first satellite,Sputnik. To see the structure rising up from the Cheshire countryside is an awe-inspiring sight, and testament to the human race’s endless quest to seek answers beyond our own planet.
The electricity pylon
Reginald Blomfield designed the UK’s first pylon in 1927, and his tenaciously practical lattice tower has survived 80 years of technological evolution to remain almost unchanged from its original design. The sleek tapering steel structure channels 400,000 volts of electricity, typically rises to 50 metres in height, and is designed to withstand the extremes of British weather. To say that the pylon is to the electric era what the cross is to Christianity would not be profane. It is a symbol of human capability and taming of the landscape.