Ove Nyquist Arup

Bruno Munari once wrote ‘An engineer should never be caught writing poetry’ in his book Design As Art.  Whether he’s saying that they should write it in private or just abstain from the whole activity for sake of their profession isn’t clear. But I believe the former is true, although I don’t agree with it. I doubt Munari would deny anyone the chance to express themselves depending on their job title; seeing as he was a man who merged the boundaries between art and design. I can picture him writing that line with a wry smile on his face.

Ove Arup Illustration

Still, how wrong Munari was. There are always exceptions to statements like that and Ove Arup is one of them, his poems and magical drawings don’t just prove that statement wrong, they crush it. It was his mind and company that saw Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House through to fruition, even after the architect himself had resigned from the project. This man’s creativity and belief in ‘Total Design’, his philosophy as described by Hugh Pearman, as ‘his role being ideally original in itself, rather than merely supporting the ideas of others’. It was this attitude that upset the architectural establishment as there was always a line drawn in the concrete separating them and the engineers, Ove was the man who straddled both sides smiling the whole time. History is proof that the people who do this, are the ones that are remembered!

Sydney Opera House Under Construction

It is with all this in mind that you should visit ‘Engineering the World: Ove Arup and the Philosophy of Total Design’ at the V&A in London. This exhibition highlights the awesome achievements of the man and his company with work on offer that ranges from the creation of the Pompidou Centre to his part in creating social housing and bomb shelters during the war. When you first walk in you are met with bubbling primeval green panels, these panels are Arup’s prototype SolarLeaf Algae biomass and heat generators; showing in the 28 years since his death Arup are still using creativity and technology to solve problems. With examples of both his poetry and drawings on offer there is an abundance of information and knowledge to take in before you even reach his engineering marvels; the ideals of this left leaning thinker are even more relevant today and no where is this is more evident than in his poems.


The world is in turmoil around us

events have unfolded of late

which have so clearly found us

unprepared for our fate.


We fondly believed in our powers

to shape the world to our needs

and now the world has turned sour

the flowers have changed into weeds.


The dreams we dreamed were so lovely

the longings we felt were so strong

why couldn’t we find the land of our hope,

the promised one, where we belong?


Why not? Perhaps I can tell you

you were not content with your needs

but also pursued some wanton wants

with rather unscrupulous deeds.

Ove Arup Drawing

‘Engineering the World: Ove Arup and the Philosophy of Total Design’ runs until 6th November.

Words: Josh Plough

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