Oral history of British science

Head, Peter (Part 2 of 14)

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  • Type


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  • Shelf mark


  • Subjects

    Civil Engineering

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    The British Library

  • Interviewees

    Head, Peter, 1947- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 2 [1:09:40] Comments on civil engineering at Imperial College: 3 year course; first year general engineering; second year more specialised, structural engineering, water management, geology, maths, mechanics; third year coursework; annual exams; civil engineers compared to other types of engineering students, more focused on world changing nature of engineering. [02:50] Discussion about civil engineering and the natural world: 1960s philosophy of civil engineers managing the natural world for humanity, current ethos of working with natural systems and sustainable development; geology in degree; teaching from Professor [Alex] Skempton, Professor Hook from Royal School of Mines; interest in tunnelling at time; civil engineers need to know about soil;, geo-technics, uncertainty nature of soils, trying to use boreholes to gauge soil quality; empirical work and theories; [09:20] teaching of soils, practical classes, empirical formulae; example of building a wall on soil; collapse of Heathrow Express tunnel. [11:17] Remarks on Imperial course: being drawn to structural engineering; interest in pre-stressed concrete, PH project designing pre-stressed concrete warehouse; contemporary important engineers, including Jean Muller, Professor Leonhardt; reasons for PH attraction to pre-stressed concrete, as used in innovative designs by Nervi, use of pre-stressed concrete in complex shapes; [15:27] PH earlier thoughts about becoming an architect; value of visits to draw things at Paddington Station, Science Museum, in helping to understand shapes and role of engineers in helping architects create exciting shapes and solve problems; value of Imperial College habit of mind about problem solving, seeing complete solution; [19:20] case studies to encourage people to think about consequences of civil engineering, contemporary construction of UK motorway system and its impact on life in UK; increasing load of practical work; field courses in Berkshire surveying and testing models; lectures and visits to real world projects; designing things in the third year' [23:35] civil engineering laboratory classes, testing materials; lack of computers for calculations, using a slide rule and logarithmic tables; value of models; possible problems with using computer models; heavy load of calculations; training and enjoyments in drawing. [29:05] Remarks on lecturer Professor Tom Wyatt: aerodynamicist who influenced PH and encouraged him to work for Freeman Fox & partners on bridges and became a long term colleague; description of Wyatt in 1960s, involvement with Severn and Forth Bridges. Remarks on sport: being taught by Olympian Robbie Brightwell in athletics at school; PH training with Brightwell and Ann Packer in run up to Tokyo Olympics, Olympic successes; playing company cricket and tennis; enjoying watching sport; PH competitive nature, enjoying testing himself through walking and other activities. [35:05] Description of self as he approached the end of university: hard working, often visiting girlfriend at Worthing. [36:15] Track 2 [cont' from 36:15] Remarks on: choosing a job at Freeman Fox with the encouragement of Tom Wyatt; contemporary interest in big bridges; goog conditions for civil engineers leaving university in 1969;, PH choice of jobs at Freeman Fox, Travis Morgan, and Mott Haye and Anderson; Freeman Fox world leaders at time; anecdote about interview at Freeman Fox in 25 Victoria Street. [39:55] Comments on Freeman Fox and Partners [FFP]: not very big company; involved in highway and bridge design; strong steel bridge design capability; based in 25 Victoria Street and Wilton Road, London; Hong Kong offices; innovative bridge building; duties designing M5 motorway into Somerset; PH starting in 1969 in office in Wilton Road; PH deciding to live in Beckenham, due to proximity to line into Victoria Station; PH working with Ken Goodall on steel not pre-stressed concrete bridges on M5 motorway, such as Nash Hill over-bridge, Clapton Footbridge, St George's over-bridge near Clevedon Hills in Somerset, designed by PH. [44:00] Description of St George's over-bridge. Remarks on computing: PH first seeing a computer in office c.1969; Hewlett Packard calculators; finite element analysis using UCL computers. [46:05] Description of how PH designed St George’s over-bridge: road alignment necessitating crossing at a point; need for three spans; working out loads on components and choosing beams; standardised calculations and bearings; material choices; various drawings; drainage and expansion joints; calculations; checking; draughtsmen, fabricators and constructors. [50:27] Comments on: choices of material between steel and concrete for bridges: motorways favouring concrete; advances of steel industry; costs; longer spans with steel. [52:40]Description of offices in awful building at Wilton Road; flat desk with slide rule and calculation pad; few facilities; hierarchy of position and offices; multicultural environment of people from different ages; influx of aircraft industry personnel after bridge problems of 1970s. [56:20] Remarks on women civil engineers: few women at FFP; advantages of women in engineering teams; few female course mates of PH at Imperial, including Jean Venables the first female president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, who met her husband Roger on course; few women on construction sites; comparative situation in Eastern Europe. [58:58] Remarks on colleagues at FFP: Robert Brewerton, who worked with PH on thin walled steel and in offshore industry; FFP partner Bernard Wex, a great listener; team leader Ken Goodall; computer expert Walter Brown, who introduced finite element analysis into bridges. [1:01:58] Remarks on typical work day at FFP: 6.30 start at home, breakfast at home with wife; train from Beckenham to Victoria; intense working day; after work activities; inter company cricket; pressured environment; supervision and responsibilities; PH first bridge designed early in his career; [1:05:55] 1970s FFP designed bridge collapses during construction, Yarra Bridge, Australia, and Milford Haven Bridge in Wales; partners put onto bridge inquiries whilst other partners assigned their work on Avonmouth and Erskine in Glasgow Bridges; regroup of FFP, Bernard Wex assigned Avonmouth and Milford Haven bridges, assigning PH to supervise Avonmouth Bridge in Bristol; PH enjoyments in extreme innovation and application of research.

  • Description

    Interview with civil engineer, Peter Head

  • Related transcripts

    Peter Head interviewed by Thomas Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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