Exploring engineering and bridge design

This blog post was written by the Architecture Centre’s Creative Intern, Lottie Morris

The Shape My City group met for their latest session on the 17th of September. The focus was on engineering and bridge design and the group welcomed civil engineer Ingrid Chauvet from RISE Structures to talk about her practice and her career experiences. Founded by Ingrid, RISE Structural Engineers Ltd works on projects by looking at the challenges carefully and resolving them up front, RISE believes that looking at the details ensures quality, always working with the design team to find solutions to structural elements.

As usual, the group first got stuck into a warm up activity, the challenge being to construct a bridge that spanned a gap of at least 10 centimetres, which was free standing and could hold the weight of a glue stick – the challenge being that is had to be made out of no more than 25 marshmallows and 30 sticks of spaghetti! Split into the pairs, the group had about 10 minutes to construct their bridges. The results were impressive, some very innovative and unique bridge designs were made and they all withstood the weight of a glue stick (just!).

After the warm up, it was time to hear all about Ingrid’s practice and the advice she had for the Shape My City-ers. Ingrid first described engineers as the ones that make things happen, after architects create designs that push the boundaries, it is an engineer’s job to deal with the logistics. It is important for engineers to have mathematics skills and knowledge of materials, as they will have to come up with solutions for designs that work structurally. Ingrid shared it is important to deal with each project individually and come up with solutions that are best for each different project and client. Not only must you have the technical knowledge, being an engineer is also about dealing with people and having social skills to talk to clients about how they can alter the design to work better structurally and sometimes, be cheaper. Ingrid has to ensure the clients trust her and that changes to the design will be worth it in the long run.

Talking about how she got to where she is today, she spoke about having an opportunity to work for a contractor on-site when she was 18, then moving from mechanical engineering to civil engineering and studying in Cardiff. She advised that you can’t wait for the perfect job, it is important to grow with a job and be open to many different opportunities even if it’s not your dream job initially, as it will help you gain experience and work in different environments. Now running her own business, Ingrid said she would now find it hard to work for anyone else. However, running your own business means learning new skills like managing people as well as a lot of responsibility. Ingrid also has to make sure everything is safe and keeps to industry regulations.

Ingrid explained it’s important to be passionate about what you do as you’ll be more productive and find it more rewarding. She talked about how even a small scale project can have a big impact, as she discovered recently when adapting a home for a family with a disabled child. She feels she can touch people’s lives and really makes a difference, which is rewarding. Talking about the fact that engineering is a very male-dominated area of work, Ingrid says there are disadvantages but also advantages to being a woman in the field and she emphasised it was important for girls to see engineering as career path for them. It was really interesting to hear Ingrid talk about her practice and the more personal aspects of a job as an engineer.

With new knowledge on what it’s like to be an engineer, the group were briefed on their main design challenge of the evening. In groups, their challenge was to work on a new design for the bridge that will lead to the new Bristol arena. With the Bristol Arena being a new, big attraction for Bristol, the bridge had to be very aesthetically interesting, it also had to cater for pedestrians, bikes and cars whilst being safe for everyone to use. With the arena being a highly sustainable building, the bridge design should aspire to be environmentally friendly and a landmark bridge that Bristol would be proud of. Split into teams, the group got going on their challenge, discussing ideas and grand plans for an impressive bridge, before sketching out their ideas. The teams then presented their ideas back to the rest of the group, some very intriguing designs were thought up including;

  • A layered bridge with one level for cars and one above for cyclists and pedestrians.
  • Solar cells to collect energy to use for lighting incorporated into the structure 
  • Large petal or rib like structures on the outside of the bridge - a very memorable and aesthetically interesting design
  • A bridge that took inspiration from plants and biological references (biomimicry)  

The ideas were very interesting and different, any of which would make a great addition to the new Bristol Arena. They looked striking, but were also practical for all the different kinds of people that would use it.

It was a great session once again, learning a lot about engineering as a profession and how to design practical and impressive bridge structures!

Links for further information:

Rise Structures
Institute of Structural Engineers education resources
Bristol Arena
Architecture Centre Bridge 150 learning materials


  1. Excellent post and wonderful blog, I really like this type of interesting articles keep it you.

    media photography


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