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On Being Wrong
Thursday 13 January 2022
5.00 - 6.30pm
Harringworth Viaduct, Northamptonshire
Online event
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In 1984 Bill Harvey wrote the first version of the program that is now known as Archie-M and which has been the mainstay of arch bridge assessment for much of the intervening period. By 1989 there was mounting pressure to offer something on viaducts and a chance reading in new scientist triggered a train of thought and produced a parallel "Multi" Program. Bill became the first professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Exeter in 1995. In 2000, the whole package was rebuilt and the two systems were incorporated. That coincided with Bill leaving the academic world and getting involved with consultancy on arches. He now prefers to call them ‘masonry bridges’ because all the parts are significant.

Around this time he began to see damage he didn't understand. The consultancy led to viewing many bridges that were in distress and slowly coming to realise what was wrong with our current view. All the information he needed was already in his head, or as photographs - but putting them together took time. The answer - that viaducts do not work as arches - will surprise many but the evidence is clear.
He now has a clear mental picture of what is wrong but having been wrong once needs better evidence that his thoughts are correct. Getting evidence is expensive and getting funding is difficult. Many working engineers have deep emotional commitment to the existing codes and tools - "That can't be right because, if it is, everything I have done for the last 30 years is wrong".

So what does an engineer do when a model they have proposed and has been used by hundreds of others, proves to be wrong? The underlying science is relatively simple and can be understood by non-engineers, so it is hoped the discussion will be technical, ethical and practical.

Bill Harvey became committed to bridge engineering aged about seven. After studying at Leeds University, he worked on several large bridges, including the Humber Bridge which was then the longest spanning bridge in the world. He then became an academic in Dundee where in 1981 his colleague David Smith (sometime chief bridge engineer at Mott Hay and Anderson) guided him towards masonry bridges with the wise words: “Nothing has been done on this for 50 years; we should be able to do better.” In 1992, he turned aside briefly, with his colleague Fraser Smith and a group of students, to build in Aberfeldy what is possibly the longest span plastic bridge in the world at 63m. In 2000 he set up in business as a consultant. He recently received a Lifetime Achievement award from the Bridge Owners’ Forum. Having spent 90 per cent of his life engaged with bridges, he sees no reason to stop…..