2016 IABSE Milne Medal Lecture: James O’Callaghan

James O’Callaghan wowed a packed audience at the IStructE headquarters with his presentation for the 2016 Milne Medal. Ian Firth, IABSE BG Chairman, had introduced James as someone we needed to hear from and that was certainly the case as we heard such an inspiring committed talk.

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The Apple Store in Istanbul’s new Zorlu Centre

James’ lecture was titled “clarity of thought” and the word clarity was evidently a play on his unique experiences with glass structures. But clarity shone through all aspects of his presentation. At the beginning clarity of initial impetus to his engineering journey, growing up seeing Humber Bridge being built and then clarity understanding himself and his working method “obsession”, “refining”, “striving”, “no more no less”.

James declared “glass is the muse”, but within one main material he conveyed elegance through great scales of structures and through the whole range of activities within the industry.

Early projects included a large structure in Pittsburgh with clarity of mega loadpath and structural diagram. Smaller projects included the array of evolving stair designs. James finished this mini-presentation with a clear diagram displaying the different structural approaches and loadpaths. James then moved through the history of the glass box structures for Apple with again clear summary explanations describing the iterations.

The whole talk was illuminated by dramatic startling photos: a particular favourite was a glass stair within brick walls, beautiful contrasts of materials.

James was also generous in his references and praise to collaborators: fellow engineers, clients and patrons and contractors.

The talk had amusement and surprise. James showed load testing to glass panes using massive swinging weights almost of the size of demolition wrecking balls. Industrial autoclaves to enable large glass panels were shown increasing in China and Europe to astounding sizes and looking like rockets (it felt like we were almost seeing a glass version of a competitive space race). James described a design for using glass tubes as a slide, seemingly reasonably obvious, but the surprise was in cutting the tubes in half and the inclusion of virtuoso connections of the ladder rungs into the tubes. The detailing was ambitious and beautiful.

We need to hear passion and energy and James provided both and more. It was a fantastic lecture and James is an evident worthy winner of the Milne Medal.

Fergus McCormick, Technical Director, Buro Happold.