Chief Engineer of Structures

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While Chief Engineer of Structures in the P.W.D.A.D. I managed in excess of 150 personnel for the design, drafting and supervision for government construction, both major and minor, worth millions of dollars throughout the whole of Western Australia. Through the Public Health Act, I was also responsible for ensuring the structural stability of all buildings erected by private enterprise that would be used by the public. Although this was only a small part of my duties, whilst absent for 20 months on the Gleddon Travelling Fellowship, an extra two Engineers had to be employed to attend to these matters. Through the Health Act my replacement closed several Churches and Halls throughout mid W.A. that had suffered some damage during an earthquake, this caused different religious orders to utilise an undamaged Church. On my return to duty, after examining these buildings, I removed the restrictions on their usage. They all survived at least two more tremors in later years and are still in use.


During the 20 months I was overseas a Regional Hospital had been designed, one was being built in Bunbury and one in Geraldton. On my return I discovered the one at Bunbury, about three storeys tall, had already been built while at Geraldton only footings had been poured. During an inspection visit to Bunbury, the supervisor brought to my attention the 1/2" diameter main sheet reinforcement used in a very large footing under one of the main columns. On examination of the structural drawings for this footing I noticed that a draftsman had drawn a vertical line obscuring the first numeral of what should have read 1½" indicating the size of the main reinforcing bars. Fortunately the column went through the loading dock floor located several feet above the top of the footing. My remedy was to prop up the first and second floors and excavate around the column down to the top of the footing and, after knocking out the concrete at the bottom of the column, away from the column reinforcement, cast another smaller properly reinforced footing on top of the original one. The Geraldton footing was blasted out of existence and replaced by a properly reinforced one.


In running my department I always ensured that each Engineer's design was checked by another Engineer and, using a roster system, had the original Engineer supervise its construction. I would also supervise each construction and pointed out anything he had missed. During my inpection I would always counted the number of reinforcing bars on site and frequently found that there were several missing or misplaced, I followed this up with the what came to be a frequent reprimand to the supervising Engineer.


On one particular job, a high school in Armadale that had the ground floor cantilevered over an embankment to provide an under-croft for storage of sporting materials and student bicycles etc., all the concrete beam steel had been placed in the reverse of its intended design. This meant that the building would have collapsed; I will leave it to the imagination what was said to the supervising Engineer!


At another job, a long multi-story building for the woman's hospital at Subiaco, where the floor loadings at one end were much heavier than at the other, the heavy reinforcements of the concrete beams had mistakenly been placed at the lighter end and the light reinforcement placed at the heavy end. My policy was the old adage "look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves" i.e. pay attention to small details.


At one time one of my Design Engineers wanted to take 'unpaid leave' to study at U.W.A. for a PhD (i.e. a degree of a higher status than Master Engineer of which I was eventually granted). I rang his father and said that the only way I could ensure his son would get the required leave was for me to deny the application and state that his present qualifications were adequate for his design work in my organization. It succeeded in the granting of his leave and he eventually got his PhD. This was an example of the inflated pomposity of those recently promoted to the top position to show their 'supposed' power over their minors. If it had been the old Principle Architect, whom I held in the highest regard, I would have recommended the application and it would have been granted; but the senior Architect that replaced the old Principle Architect on his retirement was 'blown up' with his supposed status and to prove it, went against my recommendation and granted the unpaid leave.

Further to the above 'Paddy' Clare was the principal Architect of the Architectural Division for most of my career at P.W.D.A.D. as Chief Engineer – Structures. Shortly after his retirement, he suffered a heart attack at Christmas time. I visited him in hospital and using my 'Dark Humour' to introduce a bit of levity into a serious occasion, I said "It's very inconvenient of you to have your stroke at this time – you should have had it before or after the holidays to allow the A.D. staff to take time off work to visit you". He died a few days later. Shortly thereafter his wife rang me, because she thought that I was Paddy's only friend in the Architectural Department, and said that it was to be a private family funeral, no visitors etc.


In the latter part of my service I once received on my desk a file containing a letter from a private Consulting Engineer to the Principal Architect. It tuned out he had built a school building in reasonably close proximity to the Police H.Q., a P.W.D.A.D. structure by the Swan River foreshore near the Narrows Bridge. The letter regarded to concerns relating to the 25ft pilings supporting the H.Q. The school building incorporated 80ft pilings. My reply to his letter was that, in the remote possibility that the pilings were inadequate, all that was needed would be to recruit short policemen to work on the ground floor, adding that my measurement was the result of piling tests that I had done. I heard nothing further and the Police H.Q. built over 40 years ago is still standing proud!


In regards to another multi-story building, structurally designed by my staff and built by the government in St Georges Terrace, an Engineer, who had recently retired from the P.W.D. to go into private practice, came to me begging for some private work. As his P.W.D. experience related to bridge and wharf constructions etc., which includes investigations of ground conditions for foundations, I gave him the job of investigating ground conditions under the proposed building. His report stated that there were lenses of soft clay in the region of 30-40ft depths and recommended at that least 80ft pilings would be required. I completely ignored his report and founded the building on reinforced concrete footings with their tops at ground level. This building has stood for the last 40 years or so 'Proud and Undisturbed'!


During my time at P.W.D. I happened to study the crude early works of using electrical grids for calculations, when I realised that in fact the terminology and formulae used by Electrical Engineers for grids and electricity was identical to a Structural Engineer for structural grids. To prove this I had an Electrical Engineer from a different section of the P.W.D.A.D. using his mathematics etc. to design a structure and at the same time had one of my Structural Engineers design the same structure the result was both designs were virtually identical. So I am categorically prepared to say that the calculations for the flow of force, electricity, and liquid, through their individual grids will in fact be identical.

Late in my career, at the instigation of the Cement and Concrete Association of Australia, I wrote an article published in their Journal – Constructional Review Volume 51 No.2 May 1978 which I titled "Harding's Heresies" for concrete Technocrats.

The heresies were:

  1. All failures in concrete are tension failures.
  2. Concrete has no compression strength.
  3. Shear does not exist.

This article was expected to create a furor of dissent. In fact 'not even a peep' was forthcoming. This was probably due to the Journal depicting the 'architectural' use of concrete in building and therefore would have only been of interest to Architects, not Structural Engineers.

Sometime before this, I had become intrigued in the mechanics of a doubly curved anticlastic surface used as a roof construction over large clear areas, named 'Hypars' a derivative of Hyperbolic Paraboloids. These were normally built in reinforced concrete where simultaneous tension and compression exist; this would result in shear being design criteria as stated in much of the literature.


INSERT SKETCH of Hypars


Anchor(hypar)

However, in my opinion, if the compression is in one part and the tension in another, shear does not exist. I produced a system where the compression was in the arched steel sheet roofing and the tension was in the 'sag bars' so shear was not a criterion. This of course simplified the design procedure and I went on to design and built several Hypars, the most impressive of these were the grandstand roof over the Capricorn Sports Oval at Mt Newman and the Aviation museum for the RAAF at Bull creek in WA ([:HyparImages:Click here] to see photos of these structures). I also presented an article and a lecture illustrating all of this to the 'space' conference at Surrey Uni in Guilford in the U.K. and later presented a thesis titled "Hypars as tin tents" to the University of W.A. (UWA) which resulted in my Degree of Bachelor of Engineering being upgraded to Master of Engineering. Anchor(thesis) [:OtherArticles#couple: Click here] to see an article written about this thesis.


My first submission for a Masters Degree, for which I should have got a PhD because it was short but still explained the true simplicity of the system, was rejected by the examiner. The then Dean of Engineering at U.W.A. said I need to develop a more complicated algebraic mathematical solution (see appendix), which I did for the successful second attempt, it contained 12 extra pages of complex algebraic formulations. Even then the Dean U.W.A. said I should have added still more bulk. Reminiscing, I feel that both Prof. Blakey and the examiner both ignored my abilities, I should have achieved HONOURS at UNI and a PhD in lieu of top pass and an M.E. Degree.


It reminds me of the time a Yank, who's father was a design engineer in New York, arrived in W.A. and joined U.W.A. He came to me in my office of the P.W.D. and said he was quite prepared to assist me with any structural problems. The Yanks are all the same as I discover in my tour across USA as part of the Gleddon Fellowship. In fact it is my opinion that the Yanks supposition of their superiority and organisation engendered the birth of al-Qaeda, which latched on to Islamic fantasies i.e. the demolition of tall poppies. It is also my opinion that European countries can become egalitarian if they adopt a common language (as they did for their currency) and became states of a whole, this would eventually surpass the USA in supremacy (mind you this would probably require an internal European war). Don't forget that the bulk of US citizens were refugees from monocrat dominated Europe and the UK with their 'supposedly' superior class structures.


On a seperate subject, I was approached by a private consulting Engineer, Richard Wittenoom a few years before my retirement. He had been contracted by the main mining company in Mt Newman to design for them a grandstand to be built at the Capricorn Sports oval in Mt Newman. He suggested that the roof should be a large 'Hypar', which he wanted me to design; I did so and subsequently supervised its construction by my company Hargroup Pty Ltd. This left Richard to design the roof footings and the remaining internal structure i.e. seats and change rooms etc, which would be built by the mining company.


The large size of the roof meant that its surrounding edge members would be long in length and, due to the corrugated roof sheeting being the main compression component of the structure, each sheet needed to be 1½ times longer again to lap sideways to other sheets. All this lay on top of the sag bars which were the tension components of the structure. These steel sag bars were carted to site in their short commercial lengths and site welded to the required length for bolting to erected edge members. Before its construction there was a meeting in the mines Perth HQ to discuss methods to transport all the material to the site, one of the meeting members, blatantly illustrating his stupidity and ignorance said a long trailer is not required 'just roll up the long sheets of roofing and use a small trailer' a long 'non articulated' multi-wheeled trailer where the tow bar turned the front wheels in the turing direction and the rear wheels in the reverse following direction with the amount of turn in all other wheels being governed by their position along the trailer. The centre wheels remaining straight etc. Lysaghts, the roof sheeting supplier, ran off enough sheets to cover the whole roof, all were in the longest length required so that they could be cut down to size on site and the cut offs used where much shorter sheets were required.


After the trailer was loaded with all the long sheet structural steel members it was sent to the Lysaghts to load the roofing sheets. These were longer than the trailer so their front ends were left projecting over the top of the prime movers cabin. The rig's exit from Lysaghts facility required considerable manoeuvring to ensure the sheets projecting over the cab cleared the roof of a building adjacent to factory exit. On my arrival on site to supervise the assembly of the Hypar roof on temporary tubular scaffolding, used to support the steel structure until the mining company poured the concrete footings and concrete stub columns encasing the steel stub columns projecting below the Hypar edge beams so as to support the roof allowing the scaffolding to be removed, I was aghast at the size of the excavations for the three footings. It would have been possible to build a small house in the one for the rear footing. When a mine supervisor of this construction saw that only one bolt was being used to attach the sag bars to the twisted perimeter members (so that their flat top surfaces would align with roof shape). He said that three bolts were specified for each such connection. I told him I designed this structure and only one bolt was necessary. He ordered me to stop the assembly so I told him to get the Wittenoom's Engineer to check my design whilst I kept the assembly progressing. It was then that, for me, 'the penny dropped'; because of the large numbers of sag bars, Wittenoom's Engineer, to lighten his computer's load, must have grouped the sag bars into threes but did not divide the computer's output by three. This had made the load on all footings three times its actual weight! I held no grudges towards the Engineer in fact I paid for him to visit the completed Hypar roof so that he could appreciate its size and appearance etc.


On my retirement from the P.W.D.A.D. my senior draftsman delivered his eulogy of a speech to speed my departure. Half way through it, having listened to his descriptions of the so called 'quirkiness of my actions', I interrupted saying, "Hey, haven't you got anything good to say about me?" His reply was "I'm only half way through – just wait".


I did, and like the adage I had encountered whilst travelling through the south of Ireland, "Paddy was gloomily sitting on a log reminiscing on all past troubles when a voice from on high said, "Cheer up Paddy, things could be worse", so Paddy cheered up and things certainly did get worse". The final half of the speech did just that, which resulted in riotous applause from all the staff. My reply was, to relieve the ennui of retirement; I intended to write about all of the 'bastards' I had encountered. But seeing that I was the biggest bastard of all I would have to rethink my retirement activities. I then departed in an amusing and convivial atmosphere!


Two years after retirement I was invited to attend the staff of the Structures Department's Christmas party. On arrival I noticed a particular Engineer that I'd had slight trouble with before retiring. He had recently recovered from a heart attack; in my greeting, I said "why didn't you have the decency to die from your attack, it would have saved a lot of trouble and controversy on your return to work". He did not cringe but joined the hilarity caused by my comment; he grinned because he now had become part of the legend of my 'dark' humour – evidently regarded as a 'privilege'.



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