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Isambard Kingdom Brunel: An Engineer's Engineer
Last month I spent a very enjoyable day visiting the Great Britain ship built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. She was launched in the year 1843. The ship is now in a dry dock at a museum built for her. If you are in the area of Bristol, England the ship and museum are well worth a visit.
The museum devotes much of its space to describing the life and work of Brunel (1806-1859). The famous picture at the head of this post shows Brunel standing in front of the chain falls of another of his ships, the Great Eastern, in the year 1857, just two years before his death. He looks every inch an engineer: dirty boots, hands in his pockets, cigar hanging from his lips, and a stovepipe hat.
What is striking about Brunel’s career is the leadership he showed in so many areas. He was an innovator when it came to the design and building of suspension bridges, a tunnel under the Thames, the broad gauge Great Western Railway and the introduction of iron, screw-driven ships, such as the Great Britain.
In earlier posts to do with both climate change and the OSHA process safety regulation I have suggested that today’s problems can be summarized in three words: ‘Lack of Imagination’. Other phrases that I could have used could have been, ‘Lack of Leadership’ and ‘Lack of Innovation’. The dilemmas we face with regard to the depletion of fossil fuels appear intractable. But maybe, just maybe, a modern-day Isambard Kingdom Brunel, could provide the engineering and project management leadership that we so badly need.
Of course, Brunel had access to essentially unlimited supplies of energy in the form of anthracite (high quality coal). Those days are over. Moreover, Brunel did not have to worry about modern safety and environmental concerns. This image is a photograph I took of one of the exhibits.
It is hard to imagine an engineering manager today saying that the hospitalization of 100 men was a “small list”.
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