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Thomas Telford Prestige Paper series: Strengthening the 1960s UK Commonwealth Institute hyperbolic paraboloid roof

Event organised by ICE

15 May 2023

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This is the second lecture in the Thomas Telford Prestige Paper series, showcasing award winning papers. This paper upon which this lecture is based, won the Telford Gold Medal at the 2022 ICE Awards Ceremony, the Institution’s highest honour for a published paper.

One of the few surviving examples of a shell roof in the UK, the roof of the former Commonwealth Institute Exhibition Building in London, was refurbished to secure its future as a design and cultural icon of the early 1960s.

After a decade of being unoccupied, despite a number of attempts to find a new use for the building, in 2012 the Design Museum announced its plans for it to become its new home. After a great deal of assessment and thought by the project team, it became clear that the building under the roof could not be repurposed if it was to meet the prevailing and future demands of a museum of international standing.

The task became how to hold up 3100 m2, 2000 tonnes, of post-tensioned reinforced concrete some 20 m above ground whilst the internal structure was removed and replaced.

This lecture explains the basis of the decision to make such a bold intervention and explores the steps taken to assess the relatively delicate existing roof structure for the change in loading, load paths and future movements in both the temporary and permanent conditions and the resulting innovative strengthening, repair and temporary works required.

Engineering history and heritage cover

Strengthening the 1960s UK Commonwealth Institute hyperbolic paraboloid roof

Download your pdf copy of the paper to read before the event.

View paper


16:45 - 17:00


17:00 - 17:05

Welcome from chair

17:05 - 17:50


17:50 - 18:10

Q&A session

18:10 - 18:15

Summation and closing remarks


Event close


Richard Harris

Richard Harris

ICE Engineering History and Heritage Journal Editorial Panel


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Richard Harris

In January 2016, Richard Harris retired from his role as Professor of Timber Engineering in the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering at the University of Bath.

After graduating from the University of Bristol in 1972, his career started in civil engineering construction, working on projects that included underground railways and a power station. In 1984 he joined Buro Happold Consulting Engineers, where, over a period of twenty-five years, he led structural engineering design teams, working on a range of structures in differing sectors and using differing construction methods and materials.

In his 10 years at the University of Bath, his research included timber gridshell structures, tall timber buildings, the structural properties of UK timber, traditional joints in timber, timber: concrete composites, FRP dowels in connection is timber and bonded rods.

Through Time for Timber Ltd, he provides consulting, teaching and research services. He chairs the editorial panel for the Institution of Civil Engineers Engineering History and Heritage Journal.

Richard Henley

Richard Henley


structural engineer

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Richard Henley

From 1976 to 1980 Richard studied Building Engineering at the University of Bath in the first cohort under the professorship of Edmund Happold. In the late summer of 1980 he started full time employment, until late 2016, at Arup working from the London office in a Building Engineering group.

His work was predominantly multidisciplinary project based and, in the course of professional development, included roles as lead structural engineer, project manager and project director. From 2016 to 2021 he worked as a self-employed consulting engineer, under the auspices of R A Henley and Company.

Since the end of 2021 he has been semi-retired and became in 2022 a National Trust Volunteer Specialist for Civil & Structural Engineering. Over a circa 40-year professional career about half his work, in terms of hours spent, has been new building and half existing buildings (the majority being historic/heritage projects).

So about half his experience has been centred on assessment and design and those experiences almost certainly had a beneficial impact when it came to new build projects. The former Commonwealth Institute Roof project, the subject of the paper, was carried out whist he was with Arup in the role of project director and principal structural engineer for the whole project from inception to securing planning and listed building consent. Post consent he played a leading role in the structural engineering of the Exhibition Building repurposing.

Sebastian Kaminski

Sebastian Kaminski


associate structural engineer

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Sebastian Kaminski

Sebastian is a Structural Engineer in Arup’s Specialist Structures & Mechanical team based in London. He has over 15 years’ experience working on reinforced concrete, steel, masonry and timber structures across the world, with a focus on assessing and strengthening existing buildings.

Sebastian was one of the structural engineers assessing and repurposing the Commonwealth Institute roof, and was Resident Engineer on site.