Thursday, 7 March 2013

Trust me, I’m an engineer…?



A month in which your President played roulette in more ways than one and struck the bargain of the year with the Government. Justin Bieber lined up for next year’s Building Performance Awards ceremony (tbc) so book early to avoid disappointment.

Apparently my list last month of uplifting aphorisms from the ASHRAE Winter Meeting were so valued there is a demand for more. What about President Obama in last month’s Inaugural: “For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, [he’s quoting the Constitution] they've never been self-executing.”

…which brings me to being a panellist at the Edge Debate about ethics and a new professionalism at the Building Centre. Edge is a neat forum hosted by the professional institutions that dares to ask inconvenient questions. Last time I was up on the platform, at a debate on climate at 1 George Street, I think I overdid that question bit. I had been preceded by someone protesting that it was five minutes to midnight on climate. So I suggested that if that was true we might at least turn off the massive incandescently lit chandelier.  Switches hunted for but not found (the Civils have probably it hardwired to a locked cabinet in the lower basement), Meeting disrupted, Chair furious with speaker.

Apparently being CIBSE President gets you a second shot up front. This time Bill Bordass, with the aid of Richard Lorch editor of Building Research and Information, had put a lot of work into thought pieces which were pushbacks on the Neanderthal way of life in the construction industry in the current climate. It seemed to me that we got a long way on the self-evident bit, but then the room was full of the nicest construction industry professionals you could name. For the self-executing bit we were a bit short on attendance by your average site meeting Piranhas. Next meeting is at the London Aquarium…?

Talking of Reform, Council were addressed this month by the new Government Construction Adviser before we got down to formal business. Several of the subsequent questioners rightly congratulated him on a masterly performance. Not least assembling a star studded Advisory Council with some very wise heads (included the one who funds my Chair at Imperial). CIBSE is in there too with our Board member Graham Manly. The job will need all the studding with stars it can get though, because Government (at least in England and Wales) has gone careering off in an odd, if familiar, direction. A client who cannot tell the difference between being 20% more efficient or just 20% cheaper shouldn’t ever be allowed to sign a JCT let alone reform an industry. Grief, imagine what a mess an organisation thinking like that would make of letting a tender to supply, say a rail service, for the sake of argument, up the West Coast. Anyway folks, in summing up a very positive discussion, I closed with the obvious deal – if you give us 15% more work we’ll be 20% more efficient.  Just waiting for the contract…

Talking Neanderthal, there was a brilliant set of Stone Age exhibits at the British Museum. Unfortunately its curators’ bizarre agenda seemed to be to demonstrate that ‘creatives’ existed 20,000 years ago with a set of awesomely improbably assertions as to what to do with these artefacts. While the place is bees knees on the technology of preservation the BM has always been a bit floppy on engineering. First Emperor cleverly had its self-cleaning drain pipe fragment the wrong way up. Anyway I’ve written to the Director to correct the misattributions: the holed bone is clearly an AF spanner without the A, the cross hatching on the flint an early diffuser grill, the nude doll an early… My wife, who had entertained herself winding me up during the exhibition (‘look, this one says it’s the first performance art’), bought me supper at the restaurant to make amends and – now I come to the point – we left the museum just as its late night session was closing – the whole vast atrium to ourselves, an awesome cathedral, brilliantly subtly lit.  I check Google next day and the designer, like the Stone Age craftsman, had disappeared into cyber space. Oh why do engineers let the creatives get away with marking their own homework?

Talking of great projects and lighting, the Grosvenor House Ballroom looked a magnificent setting for the Building Performance Awards - ranks of  chandeliers hopefully run on a green tariff (remind President Elect to check next year). The charity casino afterwards proved a lesson in probabilities. I really needed to get to bed, so I piled all my chips on black. But black kept coming up. The chips piled ever more precariously higher and higher like a London skyline. Excited pretty girls cluster around me (including the wife). Waiters stand at the back on tiptoe to see the Bank go broke as the blacks roll in.  Only a no smoking policy prohibits a large cigar and a Martini stirred with a paint mixer. Now I’m on a roll, bed doesn’t matter. I try just one more punt. Grief, I lecture on probabilities so I know that there is just as much chance of the next spin being black as there was when I started… The next roll is red and it all crashed. At 1:30am I discover I was born to be a property developer….

It's Justin Bieber next year as compere, I have his word on it.


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