The work of British design firm Arup Group is everywhere these days. The new stadium that will host the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing? An Arup project. The Webb Bridge in Melbourne, Australia, shaped like an elongated spider web? Also Arup. And the silver pod-shaped building that houses the Greater London Authority on the south bank of the Thames in London? That's right -- another Arup endeavor.
Founded in 1946 by Sir Ove Arup, a British-born engineer who studied in Germany and Denmark, the firm has gone from a small engineering design outfit to a global player with annual sales of €592.8 million. Arup's 7,000 employees are scattered across 73 offices in 32 countries. Business has been particularly brisk in recent years, thanks to the firm's holistic approach of employing engineers, architects, and ecologists, says Chairman Terry Hill. Sales jumped 44% in the three years to March, 2003. Yet the firm, which is profitable, isn't even considering an initial public offering. Hill says Arup's top executives like living without "watching-the-share-price pressure."
Innovative design is one of Arup's hallmarks. Take the new Second Avenue subway line in New York, which is due to begin construction in 2005. Arup is recommending that the 16 new stations along the length of Manhattan be outfitted with protective doors along the platforms. The doors would slide open to allow passengers to board a train once one had arrived. By placing a barrier between the passengers and the train tracks, the design would improve safety. It also would provide better smoke control in case of a fire.
While Hill admits he feared a global economic downturn last fall, he now says those fears have flown. "This year to date we have pretty healthy order books," he says. So what could throw Arup off track? "If quality and creativity go out of fashion, we probably don't have the business model," he says. Meanwhile, keep your eyes peeled for more Arup landmarks.