The ICE: 200 years of engineering innovation

by Andrew Lees, on July 09, 2020

Founded in 1818, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) is the oldest professional engineering body in the world and has played a central role in the development of civil engineering globally over the past 200 years.

The ICE began life as a society, founded by a group of friends in a Fleet Street coffee house on Christmas Eve 1817. The first official meeting was held in January 1818 and the society appointed a president, Thomas Telford, in 1820, who held office until 1834. He was followed as president by some of the biggest names in civil engineering history, including Robert Stephenson and Joseph Bazalgette.

Historian Dan Cruickshank presents a short history of the ICE 

The society got its Royal Charter in 1828, becoming an institution, and civil engineering was recognised as a profession. But the ICE did not get a permanent home until 1913, when it moved into the purpose-built One Great George Street, in central London.

One Great George Street

One Great George Street was the result of an architectural competition won by Scottish architect James Miller. His steel-framed design created large open spaces with four glass domes letting in lots of natural light. The building has meeting rooms, lecture theatres and also ‘the library’ the largest collection of civil engineering books in the world, which was started with a donation of books by Thomas Telford.

Ground Coffee Episode 21 – Andrew Lees takes a (pre-lockdown) tour of One Great George Street

As well as being a hub for civil engineering, One Great George Street has also starred on the big screen, being used as a location for a number of films, including Wonder Woman, Eyes wide shut and Gandhi, and more recently, Netflix series, the Crown.

ICE names Tensar geogrids as a revolutionary innovation

In 2018, Tensar geogrids were named by the ICE as one of the innovations that revolutionised civil engineering, in its Shaping the world book, published to coincide with the ICE bicentenary. You can find out more on the ICE website and check out our blog, a Brief History of Geogrids, which includes a profile of Tensar founder and inventor of geogrid, Dr Brian Mercer.