Guy Maunsell was a man of extraordinary vision and energy, continually coming up with new ideas or pushing the boundaries of more established ones. He died while the Hammersmith Flyover
(1959-62) in London and the Gladesville Bridge
(1959-64) in Sydney were being constructed. He had been involved with the designs for both before his retirement in 1959 but did not live to see the spectacular results of two of his most innovative, exciting projects since the iconic wartime Sea Forts
He made an outstanding contribution to the war effort in both World Wars, and it is now for the Sea Forts of the 1940s that he is chiefly remembered. So much so that they are known simply as the Maunsell Forts
, and the four that remain (Knock John
, Roughs Tower
, Shivering Sands
and Red Sands
) are the focus of much interest.
Maunsellís talents were recognised by engineeringís professional bodies, but not to the same extent as some of his contemporaries such as Sir Alexander Gibb (1872-1958) and Sir William Halcrow (1883-1958), who were both past presidents of the Institution of Civil Engineers, or Oscar Faber
(1886-1956) who was a past president of the Institution of Structural Engineers. Two of Maunsellís partners, John Baxter and Peter Stott, also later became presidents of the Institution of Civil Engineers, in 1976 and 1989 respectively.
Nevertheless, Maunsell — a Member of the ICE from 1931 — received the Institution's Telford Premium and Coopers Hill War Memorial Prize in 1946 for his paper Menai Bridge Reconstruction. In 1951 he delivered their James Forrest Lecture on Some Unsolved Problems in Civil Engineering. In it he says that "engineers are essentially craftsmen, and the engineering profession should be the great fosterer of the crafts". He noted that engineers are rarely seen as scientists, though this is not a negative trait, rather that it is the engineer's duty to preserve constructional crafts, many of which are older than science, and "their practice more conducive to the development of human character and happiness".
Maunsellís lecture displayed the practical and philosophical aspects of his character. He discussed civil engineering in history, and showed the need for a more durable material than steel through the modern pursuit of light alloys, adding that the 20th century was an important time for developments beyond traditional construction methods and materials. Modestly, throughout the lecture, Maunsell barely mentioned the problems in civil engineering that he himself had solved or developed.
Public honours apparently meant little to him. He published little and, unlike many engineers of his time, did not give discourses on his work. He was practical and, in spite of his temper and sometimes difficult nature, often showed a great deal of humility. Perhaps one of the finest examples of this is his insistence on the consulting engineer and contractor working together closely. Maunsell spent the first part of his career working for contractors, and once he became a consultant he gave the contractors with whom he worked access to his ideas, discussing design and planning construction together rather than giving orders. Logical as this may sound, it was not common practice at the time.
Maunsell's early years and family life are little known, and his engineering genius comparatively undocumented or celebrated by publications and awards, which in many ways is fitting to the kind of person he was. He was a practical man who lived for work and wasted no time getting his ideas to be taken seriously and implemented as soon as possible. If they were not accepted at first, he tried again (and again) until they were.
Maunsell may not have invented reinforced or prestressed concrete, but his original thinking and the challenges he overcame to realise projects like the sea forts, the elevated roads and the exceptional bridges prove his dedication and unceasing passion for the potential of concrete to change the landscapes and cityscapes of Britain, Europe and the world, forever.
At the time of Maunsell's death, all four of the original partners from 1955 were still working for the firm. Stott left in 1963 to join Greater London Council, becoming the first Director General of the National Water Council in 1973 and earning a CBE for his work in 1978. Miles Birkett, who did so much to make the Australian offices successful, died from cancer in June 1972. Baxter was decorated with a CBE in 1974 and handed over to David Lee (joined in 1956, partner since 1966) as managing partner in 1978, but remained with the firm until his retirement in 1980. Len Ramage also stayed on until he retired in 1984.
, which Maunsell had begun, led to major commissions after his death. The firm was asked to design and oversee construction of the Mancunian Way
(1963-67) and the Westway
(1966-70). The 3km long Mancunian Way is an urban motorway through Manchester with a 915m long elevated section, designed by Lee, and opened officially by then Prime Minister Harold Wilson (1916-95) on 5th May 1967. Baxter was responsible for the innovative design of the much-maligned Westway, another elevated road, stretching 4km between White City and Paddington Green in London. At the time it was the longest continuous concrete structure in Britain and among its advanced features was the use of heating grids to control ice formation.
Overseas, the firmís key activities included the Batman Bridge (1966-68) in Tasmania, the first cable stayed steel bridge in Australia, and the Adhamiyah Bridge (1975) in Baghdad, the first Middle Eastern one. Sha Tin New Town (1973 onwards) in the New Territories of Hong Kong, is a project that the company was with from the beginning, and from the outset environmental management was an integral part of the scheme.
Another landmark project is the Second Severn Crossing
(1992-96), a scheme that G. Maunsell & Partners had been involved with since the feasibility studies in 1984. The 5km long structure has a cable stayed bridge flanked by viaducts and crosses a river with the second highest tidal range in the world (14.5m).
Throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s the practice established a worldwide reputation, especially through its network of offices in Australia, Hong Kong and the UK. By the late 1990s it was the third largest civil engineering consultancy for transportation in the world. In May 2000 the company became part of the AECOM organisation, but retained the Maunsell name. In October 2001 it merged with consultant Oscar Faber, founded in 1921 and also part of AECOM, to form Faber Maunsell — known simply as AECOM from 2009.
AECOM has a long history, dating back to the 1900s, of acquiring and merging with companies to develop its current success. Both Maunsell and Faber began their firms from the standpoint of being exceptional individuals who lived for their work and the perseverance of new ideas. Though neither lived to see the global recognition of their work, it is likely that both would have been content that their companies are now in very capable hands.
portrait of Guy Maunsell courtesy AECOM