Manchester's Merchants Bridge
Charles Walker took sole credit for award-winning bridge
Leading engineer Mark Whitby has forced the Royal College of Art to retract claims about one of the major career achievements of its new head of architecture.
Just days after the college appointed Charles Walker, the founder of Whitbybird made an official complaint to the RCA over Walker’s claim that he designed the Merchants Bridge in Manchester and won an Institution of Structural Engineers Special Award for the project.
The move is seen as an embarrassment for the RCA, which announced Walker’s appointment at a special reception on February 1.
Whitby, who led the Merchants Bridge project with partner Des Mairs, told BD the RCA took responsibility for the error — even though the claims have appeared in Walker’s biography on numerous occasions.
“[Walker] joined the office to work on the project, but we designed and conceived it long before he was on the scene,” said Whitby. “And he claims not only that he designed it but that he won an award for it. The bridge won the award — there’s a plaque on it, not a medal around his neck.
“When the RCA makes a statement it gives it a level of credibility that you wouldn’t get if you were just telling someone something in a job interview.”
A spokeswoman for the RCA said it would not apologise for the error, but that clarifications had been made.
Whitby conceded that “this kind of thing happens all the time”. “We know Norman Foster and Ken Shuttleworth suffered that same difference, but at least Ken was a part of the team when it [the Gherkin] was conceived,” he said.
The row comes just days after Shuttleworth, founder of Make, told engineers to stand up to architects with knighthoods. Speaking at the WorshipfulCompany of Paviors annual lecture, he said they should “find a new Brunel” who could represent them on television and push an environmental agenda.
Walker was unavailable for comment.
After BD went to press Charles Walker sent the following statement: “There was a mistake in the wording of my bio from 2010, a correction has been printed and I have given my personal apology to Mark Whitby. I had not intended to take credit for the authorship of the project, which is by Mark.”
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