The T-shaped engineer and the revival of technology

Technology is working on a real revival. Essential for the success of the revaluation is the technician becoming T-shaped. Prof. dr. ir. Marcel Hertogh argues this on Friday 6 September during his inaugural speech as professor ‘Integral design and management’ at the TU Delft. The speech is Friday online available at


‘A frequent remark on a civil project used to be: The technique, we will just figure that out. That underestimation of the role of technique always bothered me. Fortunately, recently I am seeing a revaluation of the importance of technology, a real revival. We are more and more aware of the benefits of the new technological developments: fuel-efficient cars, the TomTom guiding us, the blessings of the internet etc. Even the number of students studying civil engineering is growing.’ prof. Marcel Hertogh concludes satisfied.

‘The revival is among others the result of the decreasing guiding role of the government in construction- and civil projects, whereas they used to control every detail. Nowadays they let market parties determine the precise elaboration, and as a result the technological creativity of the business community is thoroughly stimulated. They can distinguish themselves again through innovative capability, instead of only the price.’

Urge for innovation

The urge for innovation is much needed, says Hertogh, because we are facing big challenges in the construction- and civil sector. ‘The first challenge is that we don’t just have to realise new building projects successfully, but also keep the existing infrastructure in good shape: asset management. Definitely not an unnecessary luxury in these times of shortage, but also because many works are near the end of their lifetime. A second challenge is ‘more with less’. We simply have to make more economical choices than in the golden years of before the crisis. And the right technology must help us emerge from the crisis. These new developments can give us a competitive edge over foreign countries.

Connect and renew

‘Furthermore it is essential that the development of recent years –that of integrality and interaction- continues, through new connections and thus initiating renovations. Firstly, this means continuing the lifetime thinking. It is the same as buying a new car. We used to look at the appearance, performances and costs. Now we look at other things: fuel consumption, durability (electrically-powered vehicles?) and the fiscal regime of additions. The same shift is happening in my field of work. Link up performances, finances (costs and benefits) and uncertainties (risks and changes). Think of interlinking occupations to enhance mobility, energy and ecological development.

Artist on the highway

‘For the project De Snelweg van de Toekomst for example different disciplines that usually don’t cooperate were linked up together. An artist was involved and several technical possibilities were combined (such as inductive charging and smart lightning). The connection between disciplines is desired by large projects of Rijkswaterstaat, who select more and more on function, integrality and quality. The contractors and engineer bureaus who do this the best, get the biggest contracts. So it is very serious.’

The T-shaped engineer

Specialist have to be able to cooperate, says Hertogh. This is the idea of the T-shaped professional (also called pushpin). ‘The professional has his own specialization, such as landscape architect or town and country planner. That is the vertical line, the I, the depth of the expertise. But the professional must also be able to adopt himself to other disciplines. This requires the horizontal line of the T.’

‘This way a team of experts comes into existence that is able to cooperate. The question is how much management is required in this case of broadly oriented experts. I believe less than usual.’

Source: TU Delft (in Dutch)