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It's a fatal flaw to ignorewhat we already know

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Your recent article 'Trial and Error' (AJ 18.4.02) concludes with the inference that risk and consequent failure are a function of progress and without them stagnation results. This view is reinforced as received wisdom in your editorial.

In reality, most catastrophes in building result not from testing the boundaries of knowledge, but from ignoring information already available or simply overlooking the obvious.

The former may be put down to ignorance, a state that a professional is assumed to have advanced beyond; the latter is due to lack of imagination. Neither are qualities that engender progress.

It was well known at the time of the Tay Bridge design (by Bouch, incidentally, not Stephenson) that cast iron was unpredictable in tension; large panel system jointing design took no account of the likelihood of lateral loads applied from within (Ronan Point); and the propensity for taut undamped strings to vibrate (sway) has been known since Archimedes' time (Millennium Bridge).

There is a strand in architectural thought which confuses a change in style with progress.

Indeed, the basic needs that humans have from buildings do not change greatly, and therefore do not in themselves require or justify cutting-edge solutions.

It was not Daedalus, the inventor, who suffered disaster, but Icarus who chose to ignore that which he already knew.

Bob Owston, Owston Associates Bushey, Herts

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