Brunel and ‘Built to Last’.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born in Portsmouth at the turn of the 18th century, into a country on the cusp of a full scale industrial revolution that would dramatically and irreversibly shape the course of modern British history.

In an era where the engineering profession was exploding, with great new railways, bridges and canals springing up across Britain to provide the infrastructure to a burgeoning manufacturing industry, Brunel could easily have become another worthy but obscure engineer, working diligently on any of the thousands of enormous engineering projects across the country. Instead, he became a towering figure in history of the industrial revolution, recently voted the second greatest Briton of all time.

Brunel’s lasting legacy to the industrial landscape of Britain is bound up with values and ideals that epitomise his engineering and design work. Some of the engineering feats that make up the Great Western Railway, like the Box Tunnel and the Ivybridge viaduct, are quite simply outstanding feats of precision engineering, designed and built with such care that they are still in use today. At the core of these feats of engineering is an awareness that each element must be built to last, that their utility and durability must span centuries, rather than decades. Brunel’s astounding engineering foresight, found in almost every aspect of the Great Western Railway’s construction, is a key part of what makes it such an enduring engineering landmark.

Brunel’s work was not simply an abstract engineering marvel however. For those living through the Industrial Revolution, his commitment and prowess helped to improve the lives of an increasingly mobile population, the Great Western Railway being just one example of how his work helped revolutionise Britain’s transportation network. In the shipping industry, his time spent in shipbuilding helped encourage the widespread use of the propeller, an engineering decision that transformed the speed of Trans-Atlantic shipping in the 1840’s and more significantly, the fundamental method of propulsion favoured by those designing large ships.

We see Brunel’s work as an example of how the Built to Last ethos should be put into practice by modern engineering companies. In fact, perhaps the best example of Brunel’s enduring legacy is the fact that his most well known piece of engineering, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, wasn’t even finished until 5 years after his death. It’s a testament to the durability, functionality and style of Brunel’s engineering that it is still used every day by thousands of commuters in Bristol and encapsulates why, at Bott, Brunel is considered a key part of the inspiration for Built to Last.


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