When the Foster/ Anthony Caro/Ove Arup team members were produced like rabbits out of a hat, at the announcement just over a year ago that they had won the Millennium Bridge competition, an uninformed visitor might have guessed that out of the tweedy Caro and the immaculately grey-suited Sir Norman, one was the architect and one the engineer. And they would surely have been misled into thinking that the much younger Chris Wise, in his signature striped T-shirt, was the artist.
Wise has made a point of being the enfant terrible of engineering ever since he joined Arup's in 1979. His interests include playing the guitar, rugby, football, painting and travel, he has been on television demonstrating how to roof over the Colosseum and has even appeared on a Tatler list of eligible men. But he is no longer such an enfant , and indeed this week takes up his first professorship. When he lectured at the RIBA last week, he demonstrated his cultural credentials by showing works by Caro, Howard Hodgkin and in particular Yves Klein, but equally made clear what an impressive portfolio of work he has.
With Foster, in addition to the Millennium Bridge, he has worked on Commerzbank, Duxford, the Barcelona communications tower, the Carre d'Art in Nimes, and at Stockley Park. Projects with Rogers include the South Bank scheme and the Daewoo building in Korea - for which Wise drew such an appealing logo that the client insisted he changed the structural design to make it match the logo exactly. He is currently working with Rogers on the MTV building in Tokyo, which he describes as 'like three Pompidou centres on top of one another'.
His great enthusiasm is for sitting with architects doing conceptual drawings, and he says 'It is a long time since I have done any sums'. Appropriately, when he takes up his chair at Imperial College this week, he plans to 'ban computers, calculators and analysis'. His role, which will occupy him one day a week, is to be the first of four professors created at the urging of the Royal Academy of Engineers to teach undergraduate engineers more about design. Wise's own education at Southampton was deficient in this respect, he feels: 'When I left university I could do the maths but it took me ages to design a beam because I didn't know what it landed on or what space it tried to cover.' His career since then demonstrates just how well he has made up for this. A Wise head on young(ish) shoulders indeed.