design case: Integrating engineering and architecture


Beijing National Aquatics Centre The Water Cube C Ben Mcmillanjpg 640Px400

Above: The "Water Cube" from the 2008 Beijing Games, praised for its low environment impact. Image copyright: Ben McMillan.

Tristram Carfrae's portfolio includes working on award-winning buildings such as Beijing National Aquatic Centre - also known as the Water Cube during the 2008 Olympics - the Helix Bridge in Singapore, the City of Manchester Stadium - centrepiece of the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and the innovative AAMI Park stadium in Melbourne.

Yet Carfrae, a deputy chairman of international building professional services firm, Arup, does not see himself in the conventional designer or architect mould.

Carfrae says: "My skills lie in the integration of engineering and architecture to provide the best holistic solution. I am committed to designing better buildings that consume less resource - materials, energy, time and money - yet remain beautiful, and provide a greater amenity for society. 

"Ultimately, design relies on collaboration for better outcomes. To this end, I have been fortunate enough to collaborate with many of the world’s leading architects, including Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Philip Cox, on projects where the structural form alone is an aesthetic statement."

Carfrae has been widely recognised as a world-class exponent in his field. Among many awards and citations, he is a Royal Designer for Industry, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineers, and a Fellow of the Academy for Technological Sciences and Engineering in Australia. 

Carfrae says: "I was appointed one of the first Arup Fellows in 2003. This life-long honorary title is for those who have made a significant contribution to the firm's reputation for excellence in innovation and design; and who inspire the continuation of innovative thinking both at Arup and in the industry as a whole."

The dramatic Beijing Water Cube, which was much praised for its sustainability, won the MacRobert Award from RAEng – the UK’s top engineering award.

Dr Geoff Robinson, Chairman of the MacRobert Award judging panel, said the building's "breathtaking architecture" was "matched by engineering innovations in fabrication, materials and environmental management”.

The building's client, Thomas Yi, added: “The building’s random, elegant and organic appearance is the best illustration of Arup’s structural design concept in its finest form.  In addition to aesthetic advantage, its unique approach, utilising high tech cladding systems, yields such practical benefits as energy saving.”

The Chinese President China President Hu Jintao even described the building's environmental qualities as providing a "model" for China's development.

Carfrae has lived and worked abroad, delivering projects in Beijing, New York, Los Angeles, Singapore and Australia (such as the AAMI Park in Melbourne, shown below).

AAMI Park Stadium Melbourne C John Gollingsjpg 600Px400

Above: the AAMI Park Stadium Melbourne uses an innovative bio-frame roof that collects rainwater and maximises light. Image copyright: John Gollings.

Carfrae chose to return to UK from Australia in 2010 because UK has, in his view, the "best, distributed set of creative industries".

Carfrae says: "Not only do we have world-leading engineering manufacturers, such as Rolls Royce, but Britain also hosts almost all the world’s Formula One teams.

"By using ingenuity, we deliver better, more creative outcomes, usually with smaller budgets than are consumed in other countries."

Thomas Heatherwick RDI is a great example of an innovative British designer, in Carfrae's view. 

He describes Heatherwick as "slightly quirky but wholly original. Thomas looks to the root cause of the issue and always remembers that it is how people engage emotionally with your designs that counts."

For more information, visit