Designing a better future

The University’s relationship with Arup goes back several decades and has grown organically over the years.

The company, which is responsible for some of the most iconic structures in the world, including the Sydney Opera House and the Centre Pompidou in Paris, has long standing relationships with academics across the University of Leeds campus.

The recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding will enable a more strategic approach to the partnership between the two organisations.

“Over the years, Arup has built relationships with academics in a number of our faculties,” explains the University’s Strategic Partnerships Manager, Richard Keegan. “The Memorandum of Understanding will enable us to map all these relationships and then start working together in a more strategic sense, aligning projects so they meet both organisations’ objectives.”

The agreement means that as well as increasing research collaborations, the two organisations will increase information sharing and will proactively seek opportunities to work jointly with businesses and public sector organisations in the UK and internationally, both on research projects and in developing knowledge transfer opportunities, drawing on intellectual property (IP) created by Arup and the University.

For both parties, having a more formal relationship will deliver significant benefits. Professor Denise Bower is the academic lead for the partnership within the University. She says: “Through this new relationship, we’ll benefit from greater access to knowledge and innovation within Arup, which in turn helps to develop our staff, informs our teaching and enables us to be much more proactive at policy level.”

It will also have a direct impact on individuals. The areas of the agreement dealing with collaborations with business and education provide a commitment to developing talent, leadership and vision, plus the development of curricula and courses at postgraduate and post-experience levels.

People have formed the backbone of the growing relationship between Arup and the University. More than 100 University of Leeds alumni work at Arup, further strengthening that relationship. Rachel Sandham, who works in the Rivers & Coastal team at Arup, is herself an alumnus and, along with colleague Nigel Foster, is a key facilitator of the relationship between the company and the University. She has extensive experience of working with the University following her Masters degree and says: “The University is seen as a pool of talent, both for accessing expertise and for recruiting the right people. As an organisation we allow people to grow and develop their own career, which is not dissimilar to how universities work.”

The projects that the two organisations work on together span a whole range of disciplines, with Arup tapping into energy, water, engineering, design and business expertise across the campus. Increasingly, research and development projects are multidisciplinary in nature, and both parties are keen to see these addressing crucial issues facing the world today.

Professor Bower explains: “We have shared interests in issues such as energy supply and resilient infrastructure, in innovative transport and asset management systems and have worked together on numerous projects in these areas.”

In fact, Arup and the University – through the School of Civil Engineering and the Socio- Technical Centre based at Leeds University Business School – are currently working on a project which takes a holistic approach to asset management. The project is investigating and defining intelligent asset management, and devising a new approach which brings together the management of physical resources, with the management of people, organisational culture and business processes.

Both parties also have an equally keen interest in the resilience of infrastructures and urban systems. Migration to our cities from rural areas is increasing on an ongoing basis, putting pressure on our transport systems, the supply of utilities and on the built environment. Through working together, specifically with the University’s Institute for Resilient Infrastructure which is based in Civil Engineering, opportunities to develop tangible solutions to these issues provides a significant opportunity to develop projects that have long term impact, both in the UK and internationally.

“Another area of mutual interest is the recovery of resources, including energy, from waste water,” says Professor Bower. “For example, if we can develop methods of promoting growth, extracting and treating algae economically from waste water flows we can produce biodiesels, fertilizers and other high value chemicals.”

What really lies at the heart of the strategic alliance is the desire of both organisations to make a strong and lasting impact externally, and there’s recognition that the sum of the two organisations working together will be much greater than its individual parts working in isolation.

Rachel Sandham says: “Strategic alliances such as this one are really important to Arup. As a company, we’re known as being at the cutting edge of design and construction and it’s important that we work with organisations that are at the forefront of discovery and innovation.”