After more than 40 years with Arup, the famed structural engineer Cecil Balmond is launching his own practice.
Renowned structural engineer and designer Cecil Balmond is leaving Arup, the UK-based engineering firm where he has worked for more than 40 years.
“I’m stepping out to set up my own practice,” says Balmond, who is credited with making possible some of the most audacious structures in recent decades, including the CCTV Headquarters in Beijing by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture and the Centre Pompidou in Metz, France, by Shigeru Ban.
“I want to have more time to make some of the big art installations I’ve been doing for the past four or five years, and I want to do prototypes for the ideas I have.” His new firm, Balmond Studio, will be based in London, although he says “I’ll spend a little more time in America,” than he does already. (He’s a professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design.)
Balmond became deputy chairman of Arup Group in 2003. He stepped down from that position last year, yet continued to head the firm’s Advanced Geometry Unit (AGU), which he founded in 2000. He quietly resigned in July, but remains an advisor on the London Olympic Orbit project (a collaboration with Anish Kapoor) until the end of 2010. “I’m gradually easing myself out,” Balmond says. He will remain an Arup Fellow, a trustee of the firm, and a consultant.
Free to pursue his own desires, Balmond expects his career will become more multidisciplinary. “Of course, there’ll be some bridge design, and some other prime design,” he says. “There’s also some product design that’s been growing at the AGU. I want to design some products, maybe. I’m really open—it’s not a predetermined thing.”
Balmond, who was born in Sri Lanka, started working at Arup in 1968, after earning his Bachelor of Science at the University of Southampton in 1965. He completed his Master of Science at Imperial College in London in 1970.
Balmond has won numerous accolades, including an honorary Architectural Association diploma in 1992 and a Charles Jencks Award for Theory in Practice in 2003. The Royal Institute of British Architects named Balmond an honorary fellow in 1998.
Notable projects he has worked on include the Seattle Central Library (with OMA), England’s Imperial War Museum North (with Daniel Libeskind), and the Serpentine Pavilion annual program in London. “Cecil has had an enormous impact on Arup, and on me personally,” says Philip Dilley, chairman of Arup Group. “Cecil embodies much of what Arup is about: design and technical excellence, quality, and collaboration.”
Dilley says there are no plans to replace Balmond but adds that there will be “an evolution of leadership and talent” within the firm. As for potentially losing prime clients due to Balmond’s departure, he notes that Balmond “has been generous in ensuring that his architect friends and other collaborators are well-anchored into Arup at several levels.”
Indeed, Balmond emphasizes that he is not severing his times with his longtime employer. “With contacts like Koolhaas, Ito, Kapoor, and the people I’ve worked with in the past, if they want engineering from Arup, that work will go to Arup, and I’ll just be a consultant who facilitates the whole process.” He adds: “I’ve been there for a long time, so it’s time to move on. But we’re close. Arup is family.”