BBC One Show explores the engineering behind skyscrapers

Roma Agrawal, one of the show’s engineering experts looks at the innovation behind modern building techniques and makes a surprising discovery.

Roma Agrawal explains the innovations behind modern building techniques.
Roma Agrawal explains the innovations behind modern building techniques.

Roma works as a Design Manager for support services and construction company Interserve, and worked for six years on the Shard, the tallest building in western Europe. She discovered that some of the key engineering innovations that made the modern skyscraper possible were pioneered not in London, New York or Chicago but in Merseyside.

The Oriel Chambers on Water Street in Liverpool was designed by Liverpudlian architect Peter Ellis and was one of the world's first buildings to be constructed around a metal frame. Built in 1864 the Grade I listed five storey building featured one of the engineering techniques that is now crucial to the design of many large buildings, including skyscrapers.

Architect Matthew Ashton told Roma that it is the hidden metal frame which is responsible for supporting the building, and not the walls. The strong internal 'skeleton' is what allowed these buildings to be become ever taller. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai, completed in 2009, is currently the world's tallest at 828 metres.

Because these metal frames form the structure of the building, they allow buildings to have the largest possible windows. As Roma explained however, it was not until 1952 that the technique which allowed the manufacture of large sheets of flat glass was developed by Pilkington. It's these panes of glass that define many of the modern skyscrapers which dominate the skyline of today's cities.

Get involved

Roma's appearance on the show can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer website beginning at 24:00. ICE regularly contribute engineering expertise, ideas and commentary to the BBC One Show and they again asked for ICE's help in identifying civil engineering projects or innovations happening in the UK that could be filmed to appear on the show.

Interested in a career in engineering?

If you're interested in what makes our towns and cities tick every day, a career in engineering, in all its forms, offers many fascinating opportunities. Our careers pages will help you to understand the options available to you, whatever stage you're at.

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