UK long span bridge expert and pioneer of aerial cable spinning and the aerodynamic box girder deck, Bill Brown, has died. He passed away on 16 March after an illness.
Browns distinguished career including working as an advisor to engineering companies and consultants all around the world, and his 40 years experience in the design and construction of very long span bridges culminated in his work as lead designer for the Messina Bridge.
Brown was born in South Wales and was extremely proud of his Welsh roots. His father, who was a local politician, had campaigned long and hard for a long over the Severn Estuary. According to Brown’s brother Jehoiada, their father would have been delighted to see if being built, and would also have been slightly surprised that Bill was involved with it. After graduating from Imperial College in London, he joined consultant Freeman Fox and Partners, where he initiated new concepts in the design, fabrication and construction of many long span bridges and special structures, such as the Forth Road Bridge, Severn, Humber, Wye, Auckland Harbour Bridge, Erskine, Avonmouth and Bosporus Bridges.
As well as working on the design of the Bosporus Bridge, he was resident partner in Istanbul during his construction on 1972-3. When the Turkish government decided to build the Second Bosporus Bridge in 1985, they again called on Brown to act as engineer an project director for construction. In 1987, Brown established his consulting engineering practice Brown Beech & Associates, and started this mammoth task as lead designer for the 3300m long main span and Messina Crossing.
He also worked as technical director for construction and erection equipment for the contractor on Denmarks Storebaelt East Bridge, at the time a record breaking suspension bridge span.
At a memorial service held in London last month (April), Brown’s brother recalled how when he had set up his own consultancy, many people had wondered who this Mr Beech was, with whom Bill had decided to establish the firm. In fact, revealed his brother, there never was a Mr Beech. Bill had simply thought the name sounded grander, and the choice of name related back to their family home, which had beech tree in the garden.
Brown was also remembered by his brother as a ‘stickler for perfection’ “There was no room in his life for mediocrity ,” he said. He was also extremely loyal, once he had set his mind on supporting a particular point of view or cause, but demanded that loyalty be returned when required.
His list of qualifications and awards was extensive – including the Order of the British Empire, in recognition of his services to the country. He was author of many patents for innovations in long span bridges. These patents included methods of aerial spinning of cable wires and the design of suspended decks to overcome problems of instability under wind loading. He also developed a new cable configuration for suspension bridges to increase stiffness.
His expertise extended to cranes, radio telescopes and other special structures as well as bridges. He devised the concept of single box section jibs and crane girders, which was subsequently adopted universally.
Brown was a strong advocate of the need to base new national standards and codes of practice on properly conducted research. He was openly critical of codes developed from academic hypotheses unsupported by experience.
One of his most unusual professional memberships was the Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry – an elite group of up to 200 members from varied design backgrounds, such as furniture makers, fabric designers, potters, engineers, and part of the UK’s Royal Society of Arts.
The distinction ‘Royal Designer or Industry’ was established by the RSA in 1936 with the aim of encouraging a high standard of industrial design and enhancing the status of designers. It is awarded to people who have achieved ‘sustained excellence in aesthetic and efficient design for industry’.
Brown appreciated the fact that the faculty allowed him to mix with such a diverse range of designers, and when he started his own company furniture, fabrics and so on from his fellow members.
First published in May 2005