Leading British engineering design and consulting firm Arup has won the 40th annual MacRobert Award, the UK’s biggest prize for engineering innovation. HRH the Duke of Edinburgh presented the team with a £50,000 prize and the solid gold MacRobert Award medal at the Academy Awards Dinner last night (9 June).

The team members sharing the prize are: Project Director Tristram Carfrae, Structural Engineer Mark Arkinstall, Building Modeller Stuart Bull, Sustainability Energy and Façade Engineer Haico Schepers and Fire Engineer Marianne Foley.

The Award is given for Arup’s visionary Beijing Aquatic Centre, known as the Water Cube, and the setting for so many phenomenal swimming events at last summer’s Olympic Games The project team made revolutionary use of virtual prototyping, which is changing the way both Arup and the building industry approach new projects.

The Water Cube, now providing a legacy in Beijing as an extensive integrated water sports venue, contains leisure, training and competition centres. Conceptually, the Water Cube is an insulated greenhouse made from a lightweight structure based on the geometry of soap bubbles and clad in a space-age plastic material called ETFE. With 22,000 individual pieces and 12,000 joints, the polyhedral space frame is extremely energy-efficient and possibly the most earthquake-resistant building built to date.

Setting new benchmarks for environmental impact and resource consumption, the building incurs minimal operating costs. It captures 20 per cent of the incident solar energy - more than would be captured by cladding the entire building in photovoltaic panels. It also requires 90 per cent less potable water than an equivalent structure and uses 55 per cent less artificial lighting.

Dr Geoff Robinson, Chairman of the MacRobert Award Judging Panel, says: "The Water Cube was a stunning showpiece of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Its breathtaking architectureis matched by engineering innovations in fabrication, materials and environmental management, and a project schedule that many regarded as impossible. It shows yet again that UK engineering companies are amongst the best in the world."

The team's revolutionary use of multidisciplinary virtual prototyping and a holistic approach to building design represents a construction industry milestone. No longer does each new building need to serve as its own prototype. Instead, the technologies used to design the Water Cube will allow the building industry to match manufacturing sectors like the automotive industry in terms of cost, quality, and reliability.

“There is very little continuous learning in the building industry,” says team leader Tristram Carfrae, “but virtual prototyping can change that, enabling us to achieve greater quality with less time and less money.”

The team’s new approach enables all engineering disciplines to use the same data sets, to work in 3D and to tune a new building for optimal performance and also model the way people move around inside it. The new methods have been used on projects around the world, including Giza’s Grand Egyptian Museum and New York’s Fulton Street Transit Centre.

London’s Science Museum will be showcasing all four MacRobert Award finalists in a special display in the Antenna science news gallery. The free exhibition runs from mid-June until Spring 2010. The display will give visitors a unique opportunity tosee the prize-winning technology for themselves. The Antenna gallery is devoted entirely to new developments in the fast-moving world of science and technology represented through a series of constantly-updated exhibitions.

Arup faced tough competition to win the Award – also shortlisted for this year’s MacRobert Award were:

Orthomimetics Ltd for novel medical implants enabling bone and soft tissue to regenerate themselves after joint injuries, aiding recovery and avoiding or delaying the need for joint replacement surgery.

QinetiQ for the Tarsier system which automatically detects debris on airport runways, saving time and improving safety. Foreign objects and debris left on the runway can be catastrophic, as shown by the loss of Concorde in Paris in July 2000 after it ran over a piece of metal on take-off.

Rolls-Royce plc for the Trent 900 gas turbine Aeroengine, providing power for the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger aircraft, for which it was the launch engine.

Notes for editors

  1. First presented in 1969, the MacRobert Award honours the winning company with a gold medal and up to five team members with a tax-free prize of £50,000 between them. HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, Senior Fellow of the Academy, takes a close interest in the MacRobert Award and has presented it almost every year since it was created.
    The MacRobert Award
  2. Founded by the MacRobert Trusts, the Award is now presented by the Academy after a prize fund was established with donations from the MacRobert Trusts, the Academy and British industry.
  3. This year’s judging panel for the MacRobert Award was as follows:
    Dr Geoffrey Robinson CBE FREng (Chairman)
    Formerly Vice President of Networking Software, IBM
    Professor Adrian Long OBE FREng
    Formerly Professor of Civil Engineering at Queen's University Belfast
    Professor Malcolm Mackley FREng
    Professor of Process Innovation, University of Cambridge
    Mr Richard Parry-Jones CBE FREng
    Formerly Vice President of World-Wide R&D for the Ford Motor Group
    Ian Ritchie CBE FREng FRSE
    Chairman: Interactive University, Sonaptic Ltd, F7 Technology
    John Robinson FREng
    Chairman, Bespak Plc
    Professor Peter Selway FREng
    Formerly Director of Operations for Nortel, Research Fellow, Imperial College London
    Dr Michael Shears CBE FREng
    Chairman, Arup Trustees, Charter Visiting Professor in Principles of Engineering Design, University of Bristol
    Professor Chris Taylor FREng
    Formerly Vice Chancellor and Principal, University of Bradford
    Keith Davis (MacRobert Trustee)
    Director, Engineering Affairs, The Royal Academy of Engineering
    Philip Greenish CBE
    Chief Executive, The Royal Academy of Engineering
  4. From June 2009 the Science Museum is celebrating its hundredth birthday and a century of science with a year-long centenary programme to take the renowned institution into the future. For 100 years the Science Museum has been world-renowned for its historic collection, remarkable galleries and inspirational exhibitions. With around 15,000 objects on public display, the Science Museum’s collections form an enduring record of scientific, technological and medical change from the past few centuries. Aiming to be the best place in the world for people to enjoy science, the Science Museum makes sense of the science that shapes our lives, sparking curiosity, releasing creativity and changing the future by engaging people of all generations and backgrounds in science engineering, medicine, technology, design and enterprise. In 2008/09 the Science Museum was proud to have been awarded the Gold Award for Visitor Attraction of the Year by Visit London and a Silver Award for Large Visitor Attraction of the Year by Enjoy England
  5. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community. The Academy is part of the Science: So what? So everything campaign, which aims to highlight the incredible achievements in UK science.

    See the Science Museum exhibition

View videos from academy awards dinner 2009

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