Obituary: Anthony Freeman

Freeman was the third generation of his family to be an engineer, and he lived and breathed bridge construction
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The Independent Culture
ANTHONY FREEMAN was an internationally renowned civil and structural engineering specialist. His professional success stemmed from a lifelong passion for bridges - a passion handed on from his father Sir Ralph, who survives him, and his grandfather, also Sir Ralph, the founding partner of Freeman Fox and Partners who in 1932 designed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Anthony Freeman's pride in these three generations of engineering excellence was reflected in the name of his independent practice, 3F Engineering Consultants.

Freeman's reputation for solving engineering problems, particularly in the construction of difficult suspension and cable-stayed structures, was epitomised by involvement in his last project as an adviser on the Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon. He was brought in specifically to sort out problems with the complex travelling falsework being used. Tragically he was on the bridge in April 1997 inspecting the construction procedures at first hand when the equipment fell from the bridge. Six workers were killed in the accident; Freeman suffered serious head injuries.

Throughout his career Freeman was at the leading edge of design and successfully completed some of the most complex and challenging engineering projects around the world. In particular his work on the 450m-span Rama IX bridge across the Chao Praya River in Bangkok in 1985, and the Hooghley River crossing in Calcutta in the late Eighties, called for his special engineering "magic" and were projects whose success gave him personal pride.

A Fellow of both the Institutions of Civil and Structural Engineers, he was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1992 - a rare achievement for someone under the age of 50. But, despite his academic qualifications, he was an engineer who lived and breathed bridge construction, never happier than when hands on on construction sites around the world.

Freeman was born in 1946 and educated at Tonbridge School. After gaining a first class honours degree in Engineering Science at Worcester College, Oxford, he started his career with Maunsell, the engineering consultant, working on the design of structures for the elevated M4 Western Avenue in London. However, he moved rapidly to join the contractors Fairfield Mabey on the construction of the mile-long M5 Avonmouth Bridge, a box- girder structure designed by his father's firm, Freeman Fox and Partners. It was this project which more than any other galvanised Freeman's passion for the construction of large steel bridges.

Although he did not work for his father's firm until 1974, his very close professional and personal relationship with him was a constant influence on his career. They would continually discuss their latest work on bridges around the world offering each other support, help, advice and of course entertainment. After his retirement, Sir Ralph had a fax machine installed at home specifically to aid communication with Anthony around the world - drawings and sketches would regularly fire back and forth and enable him to "recount at length about what `Ant' was currently up to".

At Freeman Fox, Anthony Freeman was able to hone his innovative lateral- thinking design skills while working on the reinforcement of large steel box girder bridges. The 1973 Merrison report which followed the disastrous box girder bridge collapses at Milford Haven and on the River Yarra in Melbourne led to a major programme of strengthening work in the UK. His practical experience on construction of the Avonmouth bridge allowed Freeman to shine in the office. However it was clear by then that his preferred engineering environment was not in the office but at the heart of construction on site.

Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway beckoned in 1976, and with his new family - he had married Julia Burtenshaw in 1972 - he moved to work in the Freeman Fox office there. But his enthusiasm for new experiences and expanding his knowledge soon drew him to a job with MAN in Germany to learn their different approach to steel bridge design and construction.

After two years the family returned to England and Freeman to Fairfield Mabey to work on construction of the 4,500-tonne steel-decked Britannia Rail Bridge in North Wales and then on two massive steel headframes for the National Coal Board at Thorne Colliery in South Yorkshire. Both projects were hugely complex technically but under Freeman's direction were brought in on time and to budget. At the age of just 36 he was then made chief engineer at the Mabey Group headquarters.

Always seeking fresh experiences and direction, he set up as an independent consultant in 1984, a decision which was to cement his world reputation as an authority on steel and suspension bridge construction. His friend and former colleague Helmut Homberg gave him the springboard in Thailand working on the Rama IX bridge in Bangkok. Freeman considered this complex structure one of his favourites, not just for the amount of personal effort he put in during the construction, but also because for him the combination of the bridge's modern structural lines and its ancient oriental setting worked perfectly. His many photographs taken during and after construction are featured in a book about the structure which he co-authored shortly after it was opened.

With the success of this project permanently on view, the 3F Consulting Engineering office opened in Bangkok and went from strength to strength under Freeman's guidance. Many other landmark structures followed including the cable-stayed bridge across the Hooghley River in Calcutta - another personal favourite - as clients and contractors turned to his unique ability to find practical solutions to complex structural problems - "always prepared to go beyond the call of duty" to get a project finished.

The family stayed in Bangkok for seven years and made lifelong friends through Freeman's infectious enthusiasm for life and adventure. His specialist engineering skills led to a variety of projects in addition to bridges including innovative ship lifts, gantries and inspection cradles. His desire to lead from the front nearly ended in tragedy in 1990 when he fell from a spectacular flexible roof over the Roman amphitheatre in Nimes, the lifting structure of which he had designed, procured and installed himself.

Moving back to the UK in 1992, he rejoined Maunsell before being persuaded to take his specialist skills to work on the Ting Kau Bridge in Hong Kong in 1996. It was at this time that Freeman pursued his long-standing passion for flying and travelled to the Florida in the US finally to complete his Private Pilots Licence - long delayed in the UK by bad weather. This licence gave him a new passion.

His stay in Hong Kong did not last long as he seized the opportunity to move to the Vasco de Gama Bridge across the river Tagus in Lisbon - which he considered would offer greater technical challenges. His accident happened before the project was able to benefit from his skills. Ralph Anthony Freeman, civil and structural engineer: born Oxted, Surrey 29 March 1946; married 1972 Julia Burtenshaw (one son, two daughters); died Wargrave, Berkshire 15 July 1998.