Since 1975 the British Group of IABSE have held a two day colloquium in Cambridge every summer for about 25 invited participants. The purpose of the event is to exchange views on a structural engineering theme of topical importance. Each participant is invited to make a short presentation to trigger constructive discussions in the relaxed surroundings of Christ’s College.
The theme of the 2014 colloquium is Digital Design.
The digital revolution towards the end of the last century has not only allowed architects to generate ever more free-form geometries, but has also equipped engineers with tools such as three-dimensional modelling and finite-element analysis which allow them to analyse and design these increasingly complex shapes. Whilst some might argue that these digital tools have enabled new and ambitious design opportunities, others might feel they have led to a loss of clarity and engineering logic.
This year’s Henderson Colloquium is set to look at the impact of digital technologies on the disciplines of engineering and architecture and most importantly their collaboration. It will focus on the use of these tools as part of the creative design phases of a project and the link between design and construction. This cannot be explored in isolation from the documentation and management process, but the emphasis of discussion is not intended to be around BIM. It will assess how tools such as parametric modelling, generative processes, design optimisation, instant visualisation, 3D-printing, additive manufacture and experiential design can all assist communication and inform judgement by the design team.
The emergence of this technology has undoubtedly influenced the way engineers work and the skills that they need to have. The potential to automate analysis and design calculations ought to allow engineers to produce more efficient designs, and to design more efficiently. These tools also challenge the focus of engineering training and education and ultimately lead us to question how the engineering profession prepares, evolves and adapts for the future.