History

Professor William Henry Warren

Professor William Henry Warren

Professor Warren delivered the first lecture in engineering at the University of Sydney on 27 March 1883. Earlier that month he was appointed the inaugural lecturer in Engineering in the University’s School of Natural Philosophy and the following year was appointed the first Professor of Engineering. He remained Head of the University’s Department of Engineering for 42 years and, in 1919, became the first President of the Institution of Engineers, Australia.

The Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering was opened in 1983 to mark the centenary of Warren’s first engineering lecture, a landmark in engineering education in Australia. It was established to foster excellence and innovation in all fields of Australian engineering.

 

Origins

The concept of The Warren Centre was first discussed at a luncheon on 20 September 1979, convened by the then Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney Professor Sir Bruce Williams, Associate Professor Phil Jones (then Dean of Engineering) and Professor Bob Bilger invited several eminent engineers from industry and the Faculty to The Warren Centre discuss how to mark the centenary of Warren’s first engineering lecture.

This group, later referred to as the Founding Committee, concluded that, rather than setting up a ‘monument to the past’, the centenary should be celebrated by establishing a forward-looking institute. They discussed several models that might be used, both local and overseas, and decided that, whatever the model, there was a ‘need to concentrate on excellence’ and that ‘the involvement and close liaison with industry was important’.

Over the next several months, the Founding Committee enlisted candidates to join a broader Centenary Committee, which would develop the concept of the proposed institute, launch a fund raising appeal and plan the 1983 celebration.

 

Centenary Committee

The Engineering Centenary Committee first met on 11 June 1980, under Chairman Dr Keith Brown, a former Deputy General Manager of CSR. There were twenty Founding Members of the Committee, including six Professors of the Engineering Faculty and engineers from a wide range of industry backgrounds.

After several months of meetings, a clear concept of a unique institution emerged, with the central objective of “fostering excellence and innovation in advanced engineering in all fields of Australian engineering”.

The concept was later described by Peter North, Appeal Chairman, at the launch of the fundraising appeal:

The Centre’s role will be to bring together for short periods, under distinguished Visiting Fellows, selected groups of experienced, practising engineers from industry, experts from Australia and overseas, and research and teaching engineers. Each Project Group thus formed will be committed, by a decision of the Centre’s governing body, to focus on particular aspects in the selected fields that are important to the development of engineering skills in Australia. The duration of each Project Group’s work will vary, but generally, it will be in the range of two to six months. The approach taken by each Project Group will also vary, but essentially the aims of each Group will be to:

  • Consolidate existing know-how from industry, research and training in their particular field, both from within Australia and from overseas
  • Discuss and study advanced engineering techniques in that field
  • Develop an improved understanding of the approaches that need to be taken to particular problems in engineering and technology in that field
  • Disseminate the outcome of their deliberations and work, through seminars and demonstrations, open to engineers and technicians from all parts of Australian engineering and industry.

The Centenary Committee decided that there would be a small permanent staff under a Faculty Professor as part-time Executive Director. The Faculty agreed to locate the Centre within the Faculty buildings and to fund the Executive Director position.

Under the draft Constitution proposed by the Centenary Committee, the relationship between the Centre and the University was to be quite unusual: it would be an independent institute affiliated with the Engineering Faculty, with its relationship with the University and the Faculty set out to ensure it would remain independent and committed solely to ‘fostering excellence and innovation in advanced engineering’.

To ensure that these aims would be achieved and persist, the Constitution provided that the Board comprise of a majority of industry representatives and be empowered to undertake “the entire control, management and conduct of the business and affairs of the Centre”. Moreover, the Constitution explicitly stated that its provisions could only be changed by a proposal from the Board, thus ensuring that any changes would be agreed by the Board’s industry majority. The draft Constitution was approved by the University Senate without change.

In the early 1990s, the financial pressures on the University and the Engineering Faculty intensified and the Constitution was modified so that the Centre would reimburse the Faculty for the services of the Executive Director. However, in most other respects, the principal provisions of the original constitution and its related arrangements remain in place.

In developing the funding strategy, the Centenary Committee decided to raise sufficient capital to provide investment income to cover the Centre’s operating costs, but stipulated that each project should raise the funds needed for its own purposes to be achieved.

This was seen as an important test of the value of each project, in terms of its relevance to the interests of the targeted segment of industry or the profession. The Committee estimated that, in the dollar values of the early 1980s, the Centre’s investment income would need to be of the order of $200,000 per annum, so an appeal was launched to raise $2 million in capital funds for investment.

 

Opening Day: 17 May 1983

In May 1983, The Warren Centre was opened and Sir Alan Harris, our inaugural visiting Fellow, launched ‘Marine Works for Bulk Loading’, our first major project. It set a high standard and was a great start.

Over 28 years later, we are proud of a long list of achievements in many fields as diverse as high-performance computing, building fire and safety engineering, chemical storage, surface mining, underground space, energy management smart cards, managing the hi-tech enterprise, telecommunications, CAD, value-adding in manufactured products, and the Medical Device Network.

These contributions have only been possible because the Centre has responded to real world issues and needs, and thereby gained the active involvement and support of our diverse constituency from industry, commerce and the professions.

The Centre’s publication Pushing the Engineering Envelope summarises the vast majority of our activities to date, in particular the impact that The Warren Centre has had on the world outside the Centre.

 

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