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Sydney Opera House under construction

Making the modern world

Total Design past and present


How do you transform a near-impossible idea from a drawing into a reality? In Arup’s latest Design Book, Total Design over time, you’ll discover how some of the world’s best loved and most ambitious buildings were made. Decades of engineering marvels are explained, highlighting the role of Ove Arup and his ‘Total Design’ thinking. It’s a story of inspiration, hard work and collaboration that continues to re-shape our world.

Building the unbuildable

At Arup, creative collaboration across disciplines has always built confidence. And that confidence and nerve were definitely needed on a project as challenging as the Sydney Opera House. Back in the early 1960s, nothing like young architect Jørn Utzon’s hugely ambitious concrete shell design had been attempted before. It would certainly be beautiful, but how could it be built?

In order to make Utzon’s design buildable, the architecture, engineering and structural teams worked side-by-side throughout. The team also made pioneering use of early computer technology to test calculations about the movement and positioning of the Opera House’s iconic shell structure, while using a specially constructed physical erection arch to move the pieces into place.

Some 45 years later Arup continues to build on this reputation for delivering daringly designed cultural buildings at Taipei’s National Taichung Theater. This irregular, curving design, with a continuous single surface interior, would have defeated the finest engineering minds just a decade earlier. Our structural, computational and engineering experts came together to make it happen, and the result is a much-loved and inspiring cultural destination in Taiwan.

The value of connections

Bridges are some of the most important infrastructure a country has, invaluable in bringing people together, facilitating trade and transport by all. One of Arup’s defining commissions was our work on the Oresund Bridge, creating a new 12km connection between Denmark and Sweden, turning a lengthy ferry ride into a 35-minute city-to-city commute. Arup led a design consortium to take on this complex mix of bridge, tunnel and island building, which has created a vital and beautiful new road and rail connection between the two countries.

At a totally different scale, Arup is a key player in the Bridges to Prosperity scheme, bringing essential bridge building to remote areas of developing nations. These are inspiring projects, ones where we collaborate with local people to build bridges that radically improve their social and economic fortunes.

Watch Arup engineering legends including Alistair Guthrie (Menil Collection) and Mike Glover (High Speed1, HSBC), former Arupian Lennart Grut (Pompidou) and long-time Arup collaborator architect Richard Rogers talk about how Ove’s philosophy of Total Design was crucial to the success of their most iconic projects.

Beyond buildings

Total Design isn’t just about the creation of physical assets. It’s a collaboration that brings together an ever-evolving mix of disciplines, traditional and new. And for Ove as for Arup today, one of its most important facets is the ability to focus on long-term social and economic value. It’s how we stay focused on shaping a better world.

Want to know more?

Discover more inspiring engineering stories in Total Design over time by downloading or ordering a print copy.