A key figure in 20th century engineering, Newcastle-born Sir Ove Arup is widely considered to be the foremost engineer of his era in Britain. He is perhaps best known for the iconic Sydney Opera House.
Arup’s varied career saw him succeed in many roles, as a consultant, contractor, civil and structural engineer, educational theorist, lecturer and author. He believed engineers had a responsibility to the wider public and should start any project with a questioning attitude, examining the wider context of what was to be built and understand its rationale and benefit to society. He was very much concerned with both how buildings and built structures looked and how they were constructed. Born out of this belief, he created a process of working called ‘total design’ in which engineers and architects would work together in a seamlessly integrated process, believing that there are no natural boundaries between the disciplines and that any that were constructed would eventually become barriers. He believed in caring about a whole project passionately, rather than just the engineering parts. In recognition of this, Arup is one of the few engineers to have received the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture as well as a Gold Medal of the Institution of Structural Engineers.
Arup left a legacy in the north east with the last structure that he designed himself; the award-winning reinforced concrete Kingsgate footbridge in Durham. Completed in 1963, he considered this bridge his finest work. He planned every detail, including the unusual way it was constructed. The need for scaffolding on the river was eliminated by casting the bridge in two halves, one for each bank. The halves were then swivelled out from the banks to meet over the river. Of all the projects that Ove Arup worked on this was to give him the greatest satisfaction, so much so that on his death, he asked that his ashes be scattered from the bridge into the River Wear. Arup, the firm that Ove Arup set up in 1946, now employs people across the world and has a local office in the region in Newcastle.