Maintaining the Creative Edge
1 November 2011
UCL research across a broad range of disciplines helps to ensure that leading design and engineering company, Arup, can stay at the forefront of creativity and innovation.
Interesting research ideas
As a major engineering consultancy located only a stone’s throw from UCL, Arup has long enjoyed informal connections with some of the university’s academics, mainly from the Faculty of Engineering and the Bartlett School of Architecture. The opportunity to develop this into a more formal and sustained relationship came when Arup’s Chief Operating Officer Alain Marcetteau was asked to join a UCL board tasked with inviting interesting research ideas from across the university that wouldn’t normally attract funding.
Standing taller, seeing further
Both parties saw eye to eye on the importance of blue-sky research, and from this understanding grew the idea for closer collaboration. Now there are some 30 points of engagement between the company and the university. ‘We have a growing list of Arup contacts connecting in to UCL contacts,’ says Dr Anna Clark, UCL Director of Business Partnerships, who brokered the alliance. ‘These are genuine interactions.’ Last year, Arup became the third winner of the UCL Enterprise Partner of the Year Award. The company cherishes the award as something that sends the right signals. ‘We’d love to win it again,’ says Jeremy Watson, the company’s Director of Global Research.
Naturally, the focus is on the built environment. Yet the collaboration extends across a diverse range of disciplines, from virtual environments to urban sustainability and from laws to geoinformatics. With his own background in philosophy, Marcetteau was able to see the merit of such connections. ‘He likes to ask the same sorts of questions we ask ourselves,’ comments Clark. Crucially, disciplines that fall within the scope of UCL’s research activities but that might traditionally be considered less than relevant in construction or engineering are also brought into play.
For example, UCL is a world leader in medical and imaging technologies. These might seem to be remote from the needs of construction. But they are not. ‘You’ve got to understand the game-changing technologies. These techniques are jumping the fence from the medical field all the time,’ says Clark. Such technologies not only have a way of finding applications in fields distant from those for which they were developed, they also promise to transform the shape of the hospitals which Arup designs.
Closer to Watson’s background in physics is new work in energy control. Arup has built connections both to UCL and to the National Physical Laboratory in order to create a vision for measuring buildings’ energy consumption and more broadly to instill a new discipline of ‘carbon metrology’.
‘The biggest problem for a company is to ensure continuing innovation,’ Clark concludes. ‘Recruitment is a factor, but alone it is not enough. You need an environment which stimulates cross-fertilisation and exchange – and imaginative innovative ideas .’ Arup has long fostered such as environment, where teamwork is the norm and creativity is prized. Now, in partnership with UCL, that ethos is reinforced, as Arup staffers can pursue additional studies at UCL and UCL researchers give seminars at Arup.
IMAGE: Arup collect their award for Enterprise Partner of the Year, at the UCL Enterprise Awards 2010 (Left to right: Terry Hill, CBE, Chair of Arup Board of Trustees and Former Global Chairman; Dr Jeremy Watson, Arup Global Research Director; Alain Marcetteau, Chairman of Arup UK & Middle East)