Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

It's a fatal flaw to ignorewhat we already know

  • Comment
Letters

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

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.