Drawn to engineering

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Design is nothing else than indicating a sensible way of building. It includes all drawings, specifications, descriptions and detailed instructions about what should be built.

The notion of a thing being practical or functional is so embedded in assumptions about how engineers think about engineered solutions in the world, that even broad categories or terms such as ‘engineering design’ can be approached from this point-of-view. On this interpretation engineers historically design something primarily from the ‘how-a-thing-works’ and not how a thing ‘looks’ perspective – the latter concern was to grow in importance from the mid-nineteenth century. This does not exclude other important considerations on the aesthetics or styling of an object, and important economic and social concerns attending engineering design.

The best engineering histories show the role that various professions played in bringing an engineered-designed product, structure, or system, from concept to the real, and by doing so it is possible to see how rich contextual analyses enhance the work of the engineer. Addis (1999) has suggested that engineering design ‘means far more than appearance, creative inspiration or conception – it embraces the whole process by which an artefact becomes the thing it is.’

The drawings of the engineer are an obvious case of making visible the practical expression of the profession. Drawings from an engineer provide a raw account of the fundamentals that will eventually go into making something useful and necessary, something which may save time, effort, record, or make a thing work. Thus, fundamentally, engineers are confronted with a series of ‘What’ questions: What shape’ What material’ What size’ Examining the drawings of the engineer over a long period of time, as can be done by looking at the collection of engineering drawings of the Australian firm Julius, Poole and Gibson (JPG), provides an account of engineering drawing exemplifying functional design. Not to put too fine a point on this idea, it seems that Thomas Tredgold’s 1828 dictum that ‘Civil engineering is the art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man’ might apply generally to the notion of engineering design and practice.

George Alfred Julius (1873-1946) was born at Norwich, England and emigrated to Ballarat, Australia and to Christchurch, New Zealand in 1884 and 1890, respectively. He attended Melbourne Church of England Grammar School and Canterbury College, New Zealand, where, in 1896, he graduated BSc (Mechanical Engineering). After his graduation, Julius moved to Western Australia where he found employment as an assistant engineer with the Western Australian Railways. He remained in their service until 1907 and then moved to Sydney where he established himself as a consulting engineer (perhaps the first to be recognised as such in Australia) to Allen Taylor and Co., Ltd., a firm of timber merchants. At this time, Julius began to develop his automatic totalisator, the device most closely associated with his name, which in 1913 was installed at Ellerslie Park Racecourse, New Zealand. In addition to his engineering consultancy work, Julius established the Automatic Totalisator Company, manufacturers of the ‘Premier’ totalisator. According to information held at the Museum, it is said that Julius had a model of the ‘tote’ made so that he could cart it from racing club to racing club, demonstrating the operations and benefits of the device to the racecourse officials. Throughout the twenty century, Julius’ totalisators (with modifications) were installed at racecourses around the globe.

Julius had many interests in, and associations with, the Australian engineering and scientific fraternity. He was President of the Engineering Association of New South Wales for three terms (1910-1913), the Electrical Association of Australia (1917), a founder of the Institution of Engineers, Australia (1919), Chairman of CSIR (1926-1945) [Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, now the CSIRO], and he served many other organisations and sat on top-level scientific and engineering committees.

The early years of the twentieth century were demanding ones for Julius, and by the mid-1920s he had established working partnerships with two engineers, the Australian William Poole (1868-1929) and the Englishman Alexander James Gibson (1876-1960), who together with Julius would form the original partnership of JPG, Consulting Engineers. This triumvirate of engineers formed the first generation of directors or partners of the firm.

Between 1908 and 1971 the firm was located in three locations within the city of Sydney, each move being prompted by the mounting volume of work that required extra office accommodation. In 1971, the firm relocated to St Leonards, North Sydney and remained there until about 2000. At that stage, only one of the then current directors had not fully retired and he was undertaking engineering consultancy work from his private residence, under the name of JPG, thus effectively winding down a tradition of 92 years of engineering consultancy.

In 1971, JPG became a proprietary company and their remit, as stated in the firm’s Memorandum and Articles of Association, stated and reinforced the firm’s principal business was that of consulting engineers, with their operations to cover all branches of engineering, to collaborate with architects, town planners, designers, and surveyors, and to prepare engineering designs. In many ways, the Memorandum was formalising Julius’ original ideas for the firm. To fulfil these aims, JPG, throughout its long history, prepared engineering drawings (including the use of CAD [computer aided design and drafting] and collaborated with the range of professions noted in the articles on a very wide range of projects.

What can the collection of JPG engineering drawings, as a study resource, show in regard to engineering design more generally and what form does the archive take’ The Museum has a rich archive of engineering drawings that have survived the firm. This material is Australia’s only fully documented archive of the engineering drawings produced by the firm between 1908 and 1991. The archive is documented in two ways, namely, on aperture cards and a two-volume index which lists the name of the project, date, whether it is missing or not, and a drawing description. The drawings total 20, 364 and provide a structured overview of the wide range of work undertaken by the firm from its inception to its (near) closure. A brief biography of the founding and last directors of the firm is included in the index.

The drawings can be read for information on materials used, spatial configuration of the engineered landscape – especially in regard to large civil and building structures – engineering services in structures and buildings, and the presentation of engineering drawings generally.

Desmond Barrett is Curator of Engineering at the Powerhouse Museum.

Further reading:
Arup, O. (1985), in Addis (1999, p.23).
Addis, W. (1999). Structural and Civil Engineering Design. Ashgate Variorum, Aldershot, UK.
Anderson, M. and Cochrane, P. (1989). Julius Poole and Gibson: The First Eighty Years. Julius Poole and Gibson, Sydney.
Brown (1999), in Addis (1999, n.p.).
Bucciarelli, L. L. Designing Engineers. The MIT Press, Massachusetts.
Petroski, H. (1997). Invention by Design: How Engineers Get From Thought To Thing. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.