CHANGES IN THE WORLD OF THE BRITISH CONSULTING STRUCTURAL ENGINEER SINCE 1945
Keywords:Structural, engineering ethics, History
The status of consulting engineers has undergone considerable change since 1945. In common with other professions their expertise, and the privileged position that went with it,no longer goes unquestioned. Trust has been in decline. A contributory factor in changing attitudes was the outlawing of fee scales in the 1980s.
Traditional forms of contract between clients and engineers and between employers and contractors were superseded by a variety of other possibilities, usually designed to transfer or extend risk. The boundaries between the different professions and the contractors became less firmly defined. The role of the professional as arbiter between employer and contractor all but disappeared.
The pattern of ownership of consulting engineers changed. Partnerships were vulnerable to litigation and had succession problems. Limited companies had advantages and longestablished firms with high reputations were taken over by larger international organisations.
The effect of technological change in the design office was dramatic, from the slide-rule tofull computerisation and Building Information Management (BIM) in just a few decades. Codes of Practice increased in complexity in parallel with the computing power necessary to satisfy them. The Building Regulations moved away from prescriptive rules to performance criteria, which could be subjectively interpreted. One of the casualties of fee and cost cutting was site supervision by the design engineer.
Bodies such as the Association of Consulting Engineers, the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institution of Structural Engineers tried to adapt to new conditions. But since no licence to practice is required these organisations have little actual power. They can only rely on their reputations in an era when self-regulation is treated with suspicion.
Government initiatives to promote engineering came and went, the main obstacles to their success being the low standing of engineers and the poor pay.
Despite all the change engineers have actually been less affected by social, cultural and technological forces beyond their control than many other areas of life.
Copyright (c) 2022 Paul Bell
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