Department of Engineering

Ian Liddell

Ian Liddell

Professor Ian Liddell, known to the world as the designer, with Buro Happold, of the Millennium Dome, has been a visiting professor to the Department since 1999.

Ian Liddell

In this role, he not only gives lectures to the fourth year students, but also works with them on fourth year projects.

Ian graduated from Cambridge in Mechanical Sciences in 1960 at a time when 'structures' was a hot topic in the Department under the leadership of Professor John Baker. However, Ian's interest in structures really developed after he had graduated and went to work for Arup 's. "There was much less specialisation at Cambridge in those days", he comments. "We graduated as engineers, having covered all the different disciplines."

His first assignment was working on details of the roof of the Sidney Opera House, when computers were just starting to be used for analysing structures. The whole field of structural engineering was developing rapidly, something which it has continued to do as computing power increases. Ian developed a close working relationship with Ted Happold whilst at Arup's, and when Happold left Arup's to become Professor of Building Engineering at the University of Bath in 1976, Ian and five other engineers joined him to found the new company of consulting engineers: Buro Happold.

Whilst working for Buro Happold in these early days, Ian developed his interest in tent- like structures, initially through projects such as a new Sport's hall for Jeddah University leading on a much grander scale to a feasibility study into a 40 acre covered city for Northern Alberta. After this, the challenge of covering the 80,000 m2 required for the Millennium Dome project was relatively straight forward. "We had already addressed many of the servicing and construction issues in our plan for Northern Alberta" explains Ian Liddell. His work on tent -like structures in places such as Saudi Arabia where water is a scarce resource had also focussed the engineering team's ideas on how to recycle the water collected from the roof and to re-use the 'grey water from the hand basins for the purpose of flushing the toilets.

However modestly Professor Liddell talks of his designs, the novel design of the roof structure of the Millennium Dome with its use of pre-tension cabling and flat fabric led Buro Happold to gain the MacRobert Award of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1999. The MacRobert Award of £50,000 and a Gold Medal is considered the UK's premier award for 'Innovation in Engineering'.

So why has Ian returned to his alma mater…

"Its lots of fun. I enjoy interacting with the students and staff. Cambridge is a terrific university to be associated with. The Happold trust sponsors students through university and we have quite a number of Cambridge graduates in our company."

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