Content kindly supplied by the Building Centre.
Sir Alan Harris had many strings to his bow. Recognised as a visionary, engineer, professor, soldier and raconteur, here we explore his role as a pioneer of British prestressed concrete. Post-World War Two, Sir Alan began his career as a volunteer to Freyssinet in Paris at La Societe Technique pour l’Utilisation de la Precontrainte. By 1949 Sir Alan had returned to London as Freyssinet’s chief engineer and managing director of Prestressed Concrete. With the use of steel restricted by post-war shortages, the economy of pre-stressed concrete found a ready market and the company designed bridges, reservoirs, jetties and buildings.
Sir Alan later joined forces with his brother John and James Sutherland to establish Harris & Sutherland, a practice that grew to work internationally on building and infrastructure projects. Today the practice is known as Jacobs.
Sir Alan was particularly involved in education and the Institutions. He was president of the Institution of Structural Engineers and vice president of the Institution of Civil Engineers. His contribution was internationally acknowledged with many awards and a knighthood in 1980.
He was also known to be a wonderful speaker, writer and raconteur. Recalling the tale of a chance meeting with Sir Ove Arup soon after Sir Alan had set up on his own, he recounted Arup’s advice: ‘Whatever you do, don’t get big!”