Buro happold an appreciation
Buro Happold is one of the most distinguished interdisciplinary engineering firms in the world. This supplement, written by Susan Dawson, celebrates their creative range.
This is the first of a projected series of AR supplements on creative consultants. In architectural publications, the roles of people like structural and environmental engineers, acoustic, fire and lighting advisors are often hidden in the shadows round brightly spot-lit contributions of the architects. Yet nowadays, most of the best buildings (certainly those of any size) are generated out of intense interaction between architects and consultants. It is now impossible to imagine the creation of any large building without creative contributions by consultants, the best of whom play a far more fundamental role in generating the basic design than their predecessors a generation or two ago, who were mostly expected to make architects’ buildings stand up and ensure that they were well lit and heated. Our new supplements are intended to recognize such contributions and the different approaches of the firms that made them. Like this initial one, supplements will be monographs independent from the main body of the m agazine in which the work of a practice will be examined through architectural eyes.
We are particularly pleased to start the series with Buro Happold, because the firm has consistently shown a high level of invention and creative thought about the nature of structure and environmental control, humanity’s relationship to the natural world and the ways in which resources can be used to maximum effect with minimum environmental impact. Founded by Ted Happold with a handful of colleagues in 1976, the firm was, from the first, devoted to exploring new technology, and in association with architect Frei Otto, it started to work on lightweight structures. Reputation was initially built on tension: fabrics, cables, shells and lattices. But interest in spanning the most with the least soon developed into much wider concern with environmental issues, and multifarious explorations of how humanity can set its footprint on the earth lightly and what we now call sustainability Green (unseasoned) wood, re-used bricks and natural stone have become as much part of the repertoire as new alloys and ingenious w oven plastics, with cardboard and other materials previously unconsidered in building suddenly emerging as important elements of the construction palette.
Clearly, such concerns could not be contained within building services, structural and civil engineering, and the firm has energetically continued its explorations by expanding expertise into all sorts of new areas, using the talents of other disciplines to make possible holistic approaches to design. Geometry physics, and many other abstract scientific disciplines have been tempered by understanding of humanity and our need to relate to each other, and the planet.
Edward Cullinan sums up the spirit of the firm in his description of its founder, who with ‘delicious enthusiasm’ chose a team which has never stopped ‘thinking, dreaming, calculating, experimenting and trying things out; and on too’ (p 13).
Cullinan and many other architects report unreservedly that Happold’s spirit marches on. The flair for invention, for fantasy for reasoned debate, for ingenious solutions to extremely complex and multi-headed problems continues in the firm today. And so does its ability to contribute to making the world. As Cullinan says ‘From Buro Happold you get imaginative and inventive thoughts about how to build things’.
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