The South African Institution Of Civil Engineering
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Bridges for bridging the skills gap in civil engineering

The finals of the very successful annual AECOM-SAICE International Bridge Building Competition 2014, organised by the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE), was held at the St Albans College in Pretoria on Friday, 29 August 2014. AECOM was the naming-rights sponsor for the event for the seventh consecutive year!

This exciting competition, now in its 23rd year, attracts the participation of approximately 600 schools countrywide, as well as Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. The finalists from all the regions, organised by the SAICE Branches countrywide, compete for the much sought after shield, the cash prizes for team members and their schools. This year’s finalists came from as far afield as Bloemfontein, Cape Town (Malmesbury), Dendron, Durban, East London, Harrismith, Kimberley, Flagstaff, Middelburg, Pietermaritzburg, Upington, Uitenhage, Zeerust, as well as from Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

The 2014 champion bridge builders are: Hoër Tegniese Skool Daniël Pienaar from Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape with their bridge carrying 78,7kg and a final score of 143.7, which include aesthetics and the mass of the bridge. The team consisted of Nico Barnard, Daniel Lourens and Jacques van Staden. Second was Harriston High School from Harrismith in the Free State with team members Leopold Beuken, Hugo Beuken and Afan Mahmood. Their bridge withstood 75,7kg before collapsing and received a total score of 130.9.  The third prize went to Domino Servite School near Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal with a bridge carrying 67,1kg and a total score of 123. The team members were Iliya Matveyuk, Philip Meyer and Joseph Grobler.

During the prize-giving, Tim ter Haar, AECOM Africa COO, in his lively address encouraged the teams to consider civil engineering as a career. He explained the interesting life a civil engineer has with the variety he/she faces on a daily basis. He also expressed his satisfaction to have international teams participating as AECOM is an international company.

On the day …

An informative presentation by a civil (bridge) engineer from AECOM, Nadri du Toit, on the stresses and strains to be taken into account when designing a bridge precedes the action. Each team consists of three learners from Grades 9 to 12. The bridge building kits contain 25 sticks of 3mm nominal thickness, glue and a piece of string. Construction is done according to a technical briefing given on the day. The teams then get down to the gruelling business of planning, designing, measuring, cutting dowel sticks and constructing the bridge by gluing everything together to form sturdy bridge structures, while racing against the clock towards tools-down time! This year the glue was again sponsored by RiChem and Sika contributed towards the equipment.

The meticulously constructed bridges are then left to dry. Once ready, the adjudicators complete their task regarding bridge aesthetics and mass. The teams, after having exchanged daytime T-shirts and tracksuits for school uniforms, gather in the auditorium for an evening of nerve-racking testing of their bridges. Excitement mounts, hopes soar and some dreams are shattered as one team after the other bring their bridges forward for testing on the rigg. Each and every bridge is tested to destruction to ascertain its weight-bearing capability. Ultimately, aspects such as aesthetics, the mass of the bridge and the weight-bearing capacity determine the winning bridge.


The South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) initiated the bridge building competition in 1991 to further high school learners' use of Mathematics and Science in an engineering context to grow the profession. It has since become an enormous success. The bridge building competition forms an integral part of some schools' activities and is recognised on the same level as academic or sports achievements.

Because of its practical and hands-on nature, this event is SAICE's most successful initiative in attracting learners to civil engineering, as well as promoting a general awareness of the profession. The competition provides an ideal career guidance opportunity. It gives learners the opportunity to also build bridges between people, cultures and countries!

There is little doubt that the annual bridge building competition has, since its inception, captured the imagination of learners and educators who continue returning for more every year! Through the years many civil engineering practitioners have indicated that this competition impacted positively on their choice of a career.

SAICE initiated the bridge building competition many years ago to further high school learners' use of core mathematics and physical science to grow the profession and to understand the importance of these subjects for future career choices. 

Although there can only be one winner, all these learners benefit by taking part and being in a big city such as Pretoria. Getting to meet other people and learners from all corners of South Africa, as well as Swaziland and Zimbabwe, is an added advantage, all of which is only possible through the generosity of the naming-rights sponsor, AECOM and the other sponsors, RiChem and Sika. 

Site visit

Most of the teams were privileged to visit the site where the Bridal Veil Overpass Bridge in the Waterfall City development in Midrand, will be constructed. Accompanied by Mauritz Opperman, an AECOM civil engineer, to explain the intricacies of this specific bridge and the processes necessary before any construction can start, the teams and educators all agreed that this was an illuminating and really enjoyable experience.

This initiative, in support of government's objective to address the priority scarce skills situation in South Africa, with civil engineering as the second scarcest skill on government's draft list recently published, has captured the imagination of learners since its inception and has led to many choosing civil engineering as a career!

Back (L to R): Paul Els (educator), Tim der Haar (Chief Operating Officer – AECOM Africa, the naming-rights sponsor), AECOM representative Frans Kromhout, Stanford Mkhacane (SAICE president 2014) and Manglin Pillay (CEO of SAICE)
2014 BB Winners HTS Daniel Pienaar - Jacques van Staden Nico Barnard Daniel Lourens
2014 BB Second Harriston

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