As the world looks to improve its track record on the environment, much of the onus falls on civil engineering expertise to solve problems. At Arup, innovation has long been the way forward for a global firm with a rich history and the world leading construction organisation operates with a simple mantra: “We shape a better world”.
The company, with its world headquarters in London, was founded in 1946 by Sir Ove Arup and initially had a focus on structural engineering.
In 2012 The SA-Mag spoke with Damane Hlalele, Southern African leader, who provided an overview of some of the remarkable projects Arup has worked on: “Arup first came to the world’s attention with the structural design of the Sydney Opera House, followed by its work on the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Arup has since grown into a truly multidisciplinary organisation. Arup’s work for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2012 Olympics in London has reaffirmed its reputation for delivering innovative and sustainable design that reinvents the built environment.”
Today Arup is an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists offering a broad range of professional services. The company has maintained a presence in Africa for over 60 years and operates offices in Botswana, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Primarily, Arup’s success stems from three practices: Consulting, Buildings and Infrastructure. These practices then have different business units associated with them, such as environmental consulting, which sits within consulting, and Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing (MEP) services which sits within the buildings practice or mining which sits within infrastructure.
The company works with a variety of clients on projects of all shapes and sizes. Arup was recently appointed as sustainability consultants on the 21,000 square metre Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) expansion project, which aims to demonstrate world leadership through innovative integrated sustainability. The firm also worked as development managers on the OR Tambo Midfield.
A “forward-thinking” approach has set the tempo for operations at Arup and back in 2008 the company was commissioned by the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) to carry out research and benchmarking for the customisation of the Australian Green Star Offices Tool for use in South African construction projects.
The company website explained the role that Arup played in developing this burgeoning environmental tool for the South African market:
“The Green Star SA rating system provides the commercial property industry with an objective measurement standard for green buildings. Buildings are scored on a range of measures, from transport and emissions to land and water use.
“A team from Arup’s offices in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Gaborone was responsible for the entire scope of the project, including research into many aspects of commercial property design. Management, indoor environment quality, energy, transport, water, materials, land use and ecology, emissions and innovation were all considered.
“This research helped to shape the development of the tool and the addition of categories which identified important aspects of commercial building design in South Africa. For example, Arup stressed the importance of awarding points for ‘local sourcing’ – rewarding the use of local expertise and materials.”
Arup was also responsible for developing No 1 Silo, a 6-Star Green Star SA rated building located on Cape Town’s waterfront.
Among the innovative ideas deployed on this project was a seawater heat exchange loop which serves the property’s heating and cooling requirements via multiple water-source heat pumps and chillers. The offices are air-conditioned by a VAV pressurised floor plenum displacement system.
The result of Arup’s efforts saw a 50 per cent reduction in carbon emissions and a 60 per cent reduction in HVAC power consumption.
Arup’s African operations stem from its Johannesburg offices and the company has an interesting and unique structure and culture, which Hlalele described back in 2012:
“We bring together broad-minded individuals from a wide range of disciplines and encourage them to look beyond the constraints of their own specialisms. This unconventional approach to design springs in part from Arup’s ownership structure. The firm is owned in trust on behalf of its staff and as a result we have an independence of spirit that is reflected in the firm’s work, and in its dedicated pursuit of technical excellence.
“Arup was founded on an enduring set of values which fosters a distinctive culture and an intellectual independence that encourages collaborative working. This is reflected in everything we do, allowing us to develop meaningful ideas, help shape agendas and deliver results. Through our innovative and fully-integrated approach, which brings our full complement of skills and knowledge to bear on any given design problem, we exert a significant influence on the built environment. We are the creative force behind many of the world’s most innovative and sustainable designs,” he explained.
Of course any company is only as successful as the people it employs and Arup has put strong emphasis on skills development in South Africa. Indeed the company operates the Arup Education Trust (AET), an initiative that provides financial assistance to eligible beneficiaries in tertiary and secondary education. AET places qualified students into the corporate environment, eliminating the gap between study and employment.
The programme aims to help prepare young people for the working environment and post-graduation, all beneficiaries have to remain in South Africa for 3 years, with the express aim of contributing expertise to the country’s development.
“The AET programme not only benefits the engineering industry in broadening its base of scarce skills, but it also makes a meaningful contribution to South Africa through heightened productivity levels,” the company website states in a Sustainability Report.
Looking to the future, Ian Rogers, Sustainability Director, UK, Middle East and Africa Region comments:
“Our role is to shape the agendas of governments and private sector across the region, working in partnership to tackle major issues such as bridging funding availability with future new infrastructure needs, and look for efficiency opportunities to maximise the assets our clients have.
“We can make a difference through collaboration and innovation, and will continued to focus on areas such as resilience as well as looking for ways to revitalise cities and facilitate infrastructure projects.
“Our staff are the bedrock of our business. We see it as a priority to engender a culture of creativity and embrace diversity, enabling us to be adaptable and innovative, and maximise outcomes for our clients.
“Fostering new talent is vital to the future of our business, which is why the coming year will see us designing and implementing our Apprenticeships programme in collaboration with the Apprentice Consortium. We will also be rolling out a ground-breaking health and wellbeing programme with education and preventative measures at its core.
“Our specific targets include achieving a minimum of 2 hours of sustainability training per employee, 12 per cent participation level in community engagement, a 15 per cent reduction in total paper consumption, a reduction to 2tCO2 per employee and a contribution of 6,300 hours of pro-bono work.”
In January 2016 Arup released its latest annual report which reported “strong growth” in a number of international markets following increased demand for buildings and civil infrastructure services. It has also been a “very good” year for Arup’s environmental consulting services.
Group turnover grew 7.4 per cent to £1.13 billion for the 12 months ending 31 March 2015, with the Asia, Americas, Middle East and Europe regions all experiencing growth.
While the UK is the group’s largest market the proportion of work now undertaken for overseas destinations grew by 46 per cent this year to £138.3 million, meaning that a third of the UK income is now in support of international activities.
Arup’s global environmental consultancy revenues grew by 4.4 per cent to £47 million with director of environmental consultancy in the UK, Michael Bull, described the performance of the 310-strong team as “very good after hitting all targets”, with the highlight being a 10 per cent profit margin.