...record,” says Singleton. Big bridges are less profitable than lesser structures but Arup likes them “because they are a statement.”
Peter Lundhus, Öresundskonsortiet’s technical director at the time, found Arup “very well suited to be part of a team.”
Öresund helped Arup, with COWI, win the detail design contract for Hong Kong’s Stonecutters bridge in 2001. Arup was “local and we had the bridge experience,” says Ostenfeld. “Neither of us could have won the project alone.”
The Arup/COWI team scooped that contract from the joint venture, led by the U.K.’s Halcrow Group, which had won the bridge’s design competition a year earlier. Halcrow, nevertheless, is now leading another team, with Arup, checking a turnkey contractor’s designs for South Korea’s Incheon Bridge.
In the bridge field, Arup’s reputation was most seriously threatened by the unnerving wobbling of London’s Millennium footbridge over the Thames River, leading to its closure immediately after its inauguration six years ago. The firm identified a novel form of harmonic loading and fixed the bridge. It lost an undisclosed, large sum of money but retained its credibility. “I applaud them for the way they managed that and turned it into a technical advantage,” says Roger Buckby, Halcrow’s bridges director.
In the last 15 years Arup has opened a sprinkling of offices in the culturally diverse and difficult markets of continental Europe. Extending to Moscow and Turkey, they employ about 400 people, growing to 500 next spring, says Philip Dilley, EAM chairman.
More recently, Arup turned its gaze again to the booming Middle East. Quitting that region to focus on East Asia and the U.S. “was a mistake,” says Dilley. “Clients are asking us to go back.”
Arup’s international reach is mainly through its own business, but a handful of autonomous firms sharing its name operate around the world. They are the product of a policy, now being reversed, of cutting offices free once they had fledged. One of the biggest of these, in Australia, merged back into the group in 2001.
Sharing the same outlook, the Australians and the main group had often collaborated, reports Robert Care, head of the region. “We had to put contractual relationships” in place though “the clients wouldn’t have known,” he says.
Now with some 80 offices in most regions except Latin America, the U.K. remains Arup’s hub. A still buoyant economy, the 2012 Olympics in London and other megaprojects herald steady growth for the 3,600-person U.K. business, says Dilley.
Much of the group’s expertise remains in the U.K. but “we don’t have a headquarters culture,” says Hodkinson. He portrays Arup as a global network, linked electronically into a single team.
|Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok Airport|
When the owner of an emerging steel-framed skyscraper in Hong Kong ordered a redesign after the World Trade Center was destroyed, Arup mobilized its global web of engineers to prove the existing structure was robust, recalls Gibbons. Given three weeks to make a case, he set up a team of “15 people around the world,” he says.
Some directors wonder about harnessing that global web to gain from low-cost regions, but little offshoring goes on, they say. “It comes back to the philosophy of why we are trying to do things. It’s not just about lowest cost,” says Care.
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|Steady Sales. Arup’s largest market is still at home in the U.K. with projects like the Swiss Re building in London (left). But markets such as Europe (Allianz Stadium in Munich, center) and China are also growing. In the U.S., Arup won multidisciplinary work on Atlanta's High Museum. (right).|
Some 30 specialist units that have developed, mainly, to support Arup’s design work are now bundled in a new consulting business offering advice on planning, management, design and technology. Global chairman John Miles aims to provide high-level advice to industries based on technical assets.
“I don’t want to become a business consultant, but an engineer who is valued,” says Miles. Arup’s consulting contract with China’s Nanjing Automotive in its successful bid last summer for the bankrupt U.K. car maker MG Rover is the kind of work he wants.
Because of its well-established auto design consultancy and presence in China, Arup was appointed initially just for Nanjing’s bid, says Miles. Now, with the manufacturing plant largely transferred to China, Arup’s contract includes advice and design of Nanjing’s new car lines, some to be built in the U.S. Miles forecasts the share of consulting to group sales rising from about 20% to maybe 30% in the next few years. And, able to charge fees three times higher than for engineers, profits could be even higher.
But money is not the main aim, says Hodkinson. “We need to broaden our multidisciplinary approach to understand the whole context. Maybe it’s not just an engineering question.”