‘What is an engineer’?
“What is an Engineer?” This was the question posed to a group of students from Manchester Communications Academy (MCA) (Harpurhey, North Manchester) by staff from BuroHappold Engineering’s Manchester office. The response mimicked the autumnal weather outside characteristic of Manchester, mixed; from oily tinkerers in a mechanic’s garage to fixers and problem solvers. This marked the start of our two year journey with MCA where the students will further grapple with this question and explore what it actually means to be an Engineer.
To do this, BuroHappold recently adopted MCA, and principle staff member Steve Taylor, as its second school within ‘Design Engineer Construct!’ (DEC!) Class Of Your Own (COYO) programme.
Typically, few young people know of the breadth of roles within the built environment, or indeed aspire to a future career within these; an Engineer to many is the ‘oily tinkerer in the mechanic’s garage’. DEC! is an accredited learning programme for secondary school students which aims to bridge this knowledge gap, change perceptions and, through project based learning, equip and inspire Britain’s next generation of built environment professionals.
As one of England’s most deprived communities, Harpurhey faces some pronounced social challenges; a significant opportunity for addressing these challenges lies in the built environment and in its community, especially the emerging generation. Through COYO, MCA students have been given a plot of land next to their existing sports field and have been tasked with proposing and designing a community use facility. Through this exercise the students will proactively engage with many of the neighbourhood’s documented challenges and identify an opportunity which may act as a stepping stone to some of the solutions that are needed.
We are now over six months into the programme and each student has been assigned a mentor from BuroHappold’s Manchester office; students meet their mentors throughout the school year at design consultations where the students exhibit their work within the BuroHappold office. Furthermore, the students have developed websites enabling mentors to follow and monitor progress. BuroHappold’s role is to further assist Steve in delivering the curriculum and have been supporting through curriculum reviews, provision of supporting material and even delivery of lessons in particular specialisms.
The students have come a long way from oily engineers in the garage, and in such a short time they have demonstrated a critical knowledge of the built environment. Each student has now explored Harpurhey, the existing land uses, challenges and opportunities around their schools and homes. Many have explored precedents from buildings across Manchester and further afield, studying the work of not only engineers but architects such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Zaha Hadid. The wealth of imagination and breadth of ideas presented at the last design consultation was hugely impressive, each student has now taken these ideas and chosen one to pursue. With the support of Steve and their mentors they will continue to develop their chosen idea and have just begun bringing this t life as a 3D model.
BuroHappold aims to promote engineering’s contribution and responsibility to global society; through initiatives such as COYO supported by the Happold Foundation we ensure that our contribution does not start or stop at the site boundary, and that we embed our teams as true citizens of their cities. Inspiring and developing the future leaders of our industry is a vital component of this. Based on the level of technical understanding, enthusiasm and creativity of the students at MCA, all picked up in such as short space of time, we have no doubt that this group could be Manchester’s future leaders.