Dame Jo da Silva is a structural engineer and disaster relief specialist. Her humanitarian work has taken her from Sri Lanka in the wake of the Tsunami to Pakistan and Haiti to help with their post-earthquake recovery. Jo was born in Washington DC where her father was a diplomat. As a child she enjoyed making things including buildings for her brother’s train set. After graduating from Cambridge University she joined design and engineering firm Arup where her first assignment involved working with Lord Norman Foster on a design for bus shelters. She went on to work on the Ondaatje Wing at the National Portrait Gallery and Hong Kong’s International Airport on the island of Chek Lap Kok. In 1994 she went to Tanzania where she worked in the refugee camps which had sprung up after the genocide in Rwanda. She devised a road system which transformed the delivery of food, water and medical supplies. After this experience she decided to devote her energies to crisis and disaster projects and in 2007 she founded Arup International Development, a not-for-profit business which designs buildings and infrastructure to help vulnerable and displaced people around the world. In 2021 she received a Damehood in the New Year’s Honours list for her contribution to humanitarian relief. DISC ONE: Sound And Vision (Remastered) by David Bowie DISC TWO: Clarinet Concerto in A, K.622:2 Adagio, composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by Jack Brymer (clarinet), Allegri Quartet (string quartet), London Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Sir Colin Davis DISC THREE: All The World is Green by Tom Waits DISC FOUR: Weird Fishes / Arpeggi by Radiohead DISC FIVE: Shudder / King Of Snake by Underworld DISC SIX: Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell DISC SEVEN: Not Dark Yet by Bob Dylan DISC EIGHT: Crying Shame by Jack Johnson BOOK CHOICE: ‘The Boardman Tasker Omnibus’ by Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker LUXURY ITEM: A charpoi (traditional Indian rope bed) CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: All The World is Green by Tom Waits Presenter Lauren Laverne Producer Paula McGinley
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Pvc sounds music, radio broadcasts, hallo unlearned event, and this is the desert island discs podcast. Every week I ask my guest to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they want to take with them if they were cast away to a desert island for rights. reasons the music is shorter. The original broadcast. I hope you enjoy listening. I The Michael The way this week is the engineer dame Joanna two silva in the beginning, her job was making architect dreams real. You may have set foot in one of the structures she helped to create anything from boss. Shelters
designed by norman, foster to hong kong's international airport or the national portrait galleries on duchy wing She might still have been realizing beautiful architectural visions, if not for a trip to tanzania and ninety. Ninety four, where she worked in the refugee camps, which had sprung up the genocide in rwanda. She came home with a new purpose to you. Engineering to improve the quality of life for the world's poorest and a second career began In her words, has respond, design, disasters and development, her humanitarian. Work has taken her from sri lanka in the wake of the tsunami to pakistan and hazy to help with their post earthquake recovery in two thousand and seven. She set up our of international development, a not for profit business focused on addressing popular in growth, climate change and poverty, a pioneering work, analyzing, the resilience of cities to those challenges and her the gold medal from the institution. structural engineers and a dame
in this year's on this list? She says I don't feel brave, I feel lucky that I chose a career which has given me the skills that are really useful and can save lives and reduce suffering due to silver welcomed. That island discs. Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here So Joe, you began your career, realizing the beautiful dreams of others. I wonder how much your ideas about what constitutes a beautiful structure have changed over the years. Like many people of my vintage, we were top believing in high design, sort of glass and steal buildings that looked fantastic and as my crazy evolved, I've got less interested in what buildings looked like, but really about the role they play in or do they work is teaching environments? Do they make it easy for people to get to work of aid,
hospitals that actually help people get better. I think you once said we as engineers create the stage set in which the play happens and that's thrilling, but it is also a huge amount of pressure. You know which is it for you is it's a thrill possibility or a nerve racking responsibility when you start out on protect. Oh, it said definitely a newer threading possibility. It is like designing the stage set which life plays out. I remember going to the national portrait gallery when it was finished and there was a classic all children sitting cross legged in front of a giant portrait of henry. The eighth, with a teacher lying in the story of henry the eighth and all his wives, and you could tell they were transfixed, and I knew that that portrait had sat in storage for decades because, as we know, it hang it, and I felt so thrilled that I
had a part to play in creating a building that it enabled it to come out of storage and was making history real for children and how much is to be able to go back and visit one of your projects and actually be in its while its doing its job is his great fun, unknown, a very practical level. It means that when I go to airports like stansted and check lecoq airport, I always knew where to find the shops in the oil sector without let's get going, then what ve chosen eighty first disc and why you taken it with you today, David boeing, has really being the soundtrack to my life. My sister, who sadly died two years ago, introduced me to David, bury when I was at school. I sneaked out of school to go and see him live,
milton kings bomb on his serious moonlight tool. We didn't have any means to get there, so we built to driving lesson and persuaded the instructed to drop us off and then later, when I was living in berlin, I got very into his alleys electronic music, and this is sound. The signed invasion by David bully, so jody
if you were born in washington d c, where your father John, was a diplomat. His father was portuguese and his mother american. I believe he was brought up in england, though. How would you describe the cultural outlook at home? It was originally born in america and he came to the uk when he was eight and was educated here, and he had really become an english gentleman, but he didn't have sort of deep english roots and my mother, Contrast came from an english family, whether sister family, up in Lancashire. So I grew up with this mix of real english but at the same time, a recognition that that there was a big, a world There was it the kind of house where you know you talk that big ideas over dinner was, at the you know, intellectually free
Another broad outlook, yes, my father was almost fifty when I was born died with intellectual. He was always reading books and he really encouraged us to develop a sense of responsibility not just for ourselves but for our opinions, and there was very little tolerance for an opinion that was just based on an ocean he'd make you feel a bit stupid if you won't thinking, but he was very special when I was but fifteen. I think I should have challenged him on something, and he just very calmly said to me Joe you're. My third daughter and I know a lot about sixty year old girls, and I know that you won't listen to me. I'm not telling you what to do, I'm giving you my advice and then he said and my advice is you take my advice,
of course, he didn't really mind whether we took his advice or not, because he was very clear. It's your life is your responsibility and we were very much encouraged to just go out and live life. Other people's parents were stopping their children, smoking and drinking, and my parents said smoke and drink whatever want, but you have to pay for it. Your mother Jennifer was your father's second wife. He was a widower with a groan those who, when they married- and you describe yourself in your book insisted as his second family. So you were the middle child. Were you happy with your place
in the family hierarchy yeah, I think, I'm very much a middle child. My sister was very ill for about four years when she was a child because she had to have problems with her kidneys and had numerous operations and fought for her life, and I think she then really decided, I think, as a child, that she was going to live life to the full, and I think that enabled me to sort of follow more quietly in her footsteps. She should have paved the way- and I I didn't have to do that. I didn't have to be the pioneer do it's time for your second track today. What's it going to be and why the chosen? My second record is Mozart's clarinet concerto in a this music. Just simply reminds me of my childhood. I learned to play the clarinet
go and loved it. It just brings back memories of being in my bedroom at home, practicing mum's, cooking family life, and it's the peace that my brother and I chose last year for my mom sphere the the the the
the mozart, clarinet, concerto, played by jacques primer with the london symphony orchestra conducted bicycling, Davis, jody silva. When you fool The family came to the uk and you went to an old girls boarding school in Kent. If we'd, let you back, then, would we have identified a budding engineer to thing I loved making things I took up dressmaking when I was about ten and made all my clothes. I go to oxfam and get the evening dresses and chop them up off and remake them into clothes, and I used to make models of my brothers.
I set, but I really sort of fell into engineering. Yes, and things happened while he was studying for a levels. I went to the the library to sort of look at all options for careers and there was a rolodex and I started at a for accountancy, and then it got beef or banking, If a chemist and it wasn't till I got to e an engineering that anything sparked my interest, said: the engineering was really about making things and that civil engineers was about design buildings and bridges and water systems, and I felt right. That's what I do so. I told my parents, that's what I was going to do and how to day react when at the time I thought they were supportive put term after dad died. I was shown a letter by my mother that he had written to my headmaster, questioning whether it was a wise decision and he
I think the engineering with an appropriate choice for a young woman. I'm did not shock disappoint you. How did you feel when you read it? No, I thought it was wrong lovely actually that he was interested unconcerned but had interfered hid. He just sort of got more information to reassure himself and then, when I got into cambridge to study engineering, he was very supportive, and what do you think his concerns were about? Engineering is A subject which isn't taught in school and then it's a sort of associated wizard of men in hard hats with big, bear belize and steal toe kept boots new working on building sites. I think his concerns probably came from not really understanding what engineering was about, and I think there are concerns that perhaps parents have today, when their daughters think they're going to going to her.
a field that is male dominated time for disk number three. What are we going to hear next and why are you taking it with you? All? The world is green by Tom waits, the lyrics in this song, really mourning for a world that we ve lost where all the world is green and the environment comes first Do you? You came was against the sea, have the blue sky, the foolish kings and the king all the way.
This green tom waits jody silver. Cambridge. Only eight percent the people on your engineering course were women. They said when he started working. discovered that women were in such a minority that you faced more practical challenges. What kind of thing with a when you're in a building site you have to wear steel capped boots and a hi fi jacket, and it's the contractors responsibility to make sure that that kind of safety equipment is there on site, but because I'm only five foot, five and I've got small feet. I'd turn up and then a jacket that would be there would be set of several sizes too big for me and you'd have to put on a pair of wellies that were cir two or three size,
is to bake and then of course, there was never a female toilet anywhere and when you do, we were laughing about it, but that that is tough cause. It can kind of compromise your authority. If you are there to be the engineer and play that role and say well, no, this isn't going to work and here's. Why you'd want to look like you're drowning in somebody else's clothes like a little girl, who's sort of dressed up? No, I think you're very right, and I think these are the subtle things about discrimination that don't surface too often are things changing. Do you feel optimistic about the direction things are heading in now, when I look at the statistics about how many women are in engineering, I get rage pressed. It was about somebody innovative technology and engineering graduates. In my day and in the kids any now about fourteen percent, which is much lower than most other countries in europe, but on a day to day basis its changed radically within the company I work for. We have taken
diversity very seriously of a recent is, and there are now is several women on the main board about fifty percent of all new graduates are women, and so that just changes the culture of the workplace. It's time for some music now Joe de silva disc, know before what have you gone for and why this next song is wade fishes of pegi by radiohead. This one is for my partner, graham who I met fifteen years ago. He was divorced with two small children and overnight I became stepmom. We listened to radiohead a lot and when they played at the roundhouse in kentish town, we had three computers going to try and get tickets, and then we didn't get tickets and about three days later, graham shouts at me and says: do you want to go to iceland to see radio
I said yes, of course, and it was the most amazing concert at the summer solstice and they played for two hours and we came out at midnight, and there was a midnight, some radio, and weird fishes patchy for your family to the silver due to silver own. Ask you about a year that you say completely changed your life. This is nineteen. Eighty eight and just after you
you waited you travel to india, where you worked. The wildlife come said it by the conservationist fulbright on the edge of the continent national park. Why was it so transformative? I saw tiger cubs grow up over that year. I saw the seasons change and I lived with nature in a really intimate way, and that really is seated a deep.
Love for nature for the natural environment. It was delightful moment in terms of engineering for you as well. Why was that when I realized tat? I had these very through practical skills. I'd I'd, read engineering at university, but I had really registered how practical it was and there was no running water and there is certainly no hot water unless we heated up over an open fire and I realized tat, I could make a sort of solar powered shower panel with some gloss sheet and some copper chiefs and put it on the roof of the washroom. But what was really interesting is when I extended my house there, and it was a house that was made out of a set of timber
frame and mud wolves, but I put two three or four courses of brick at the bottom to prevent the water getting in and prevent the rain eroding the bottom of the walls, and when I went back to the village about ten years later, I notice that most of the buildings in the village, with it now doing when he came back to the uk joe, you got a job with the design and engineering firm arab and your first project was a bush shelter designed by architect, norman foster. What were your instructions? He told me what you wanted me to do and I said well: where do I begin, and he said bs, five thousand nine hundred and eighty- and I said what's that, and it was the steel.
design standard and he expected me to know, and then he looked at me, and he said, oh god, you didn't go to cambridge. Did you- and that really was a great way to start, because you know it knocked all the sort of stuffing out of me and I thought, okay, you know I may have an education, but I could start at square one it's time for some more music do. What are we going to hear next and why so? This next song is really to remind me of an amazing period of my life, where I was living in london: designing buildings really enjoying being in my late twenties and early taxis. Life was about work, but it was also about clubbing. And climbing, and this is a song that I've dont too many times. It shudder, king of snake, by underworld
should a king of snake by underwater, Do the silvery ninety ninety one, you worked on the new international airport in Hong kong and lace, help we developed parts of the royal geographical society in the national portrait guy
we but buildings in themselves had started to lose their appeal for you. Why I loved his anita locri airport? It was really technically challenging, but it was. It was pretty remote from people and when I came back to the uk, I wanted to refocus my career. And design buildings that that really created serious social value. Much more obviously so he started. Volunteering for Parity called red are registered engineers for disaster relief and in ninety. Ninety, four they flew you out to tanzania, see your job was to help in the benaco refugee camp, which had been settled.
to the genocide in rwanda. What we first impressions there were several hundred thousand people they're. All they had was what they managed to carry with them over the border and in those early weeks I saw the forest walk backwards, like retreating army as the refugees chopped it down for firewood, and I saw the water in the lake sort of go down like watching summoned drink, a pint of bare sir, to things that really I being fundamental to everything. I've done since into the first really is the sort of relationship between human beings and how we rely on what the planet provides and the second being that act
Lee its engineering and the infrastructure, the engineers design that enables us to sort of share out those resources and what was your room? I was a building distribution centres for food out of local materials, such as using eucalyptus, poles, plastic, cheating, corrugated, cheating, and we will build in latrines hundreds of latrines, and then I realized that actually, probably the biggest difference I could make was to sort out the roads, because the camps relied on food, medical supplies building materials all coming in by roads, and these roads were just dirt tracks and Oh? I started by certain patch repairs on the roads and then decided to suit of come up with a scheme to upgrade the roads, I could see that in about four or five months time there was going to be sick.
the problem, because the rainy season would arrive and these roads were just going to become impossible. They would become just so muddy and so full of potholes because of the additional traffic, and I did the design and several months later, a team was then tat to implement it. The scale of the engineering challenge is hard to overstate really, but when, when you are too that the human drama that you were faced with, I think that would have broken the law of people. How did you cope and what we faced You know, I realized that I was sort of bottling, a lot of what I was saying in full What happened is I got cerebral malaria, and so when I came home the thing that was most immediate
The fact that had survival, malaria and been very ill and nearly died- and it wasn't until two or three years later, when a boyfriend asked me the question that you ve just off the late came off all the traumatized things. I'd seen did not moment you're. Just in that moment, I suddenly was taken back to trying to. I was trying to build a raft bridge across the river between rwanda and uganda so that we could get food supplies in from uganda, and I thought what I was saying in the river with the hippos and then I realized that it wasn't it was. It was tens and then, quite soon, after hundreds of dead bodies, though it coming down the river and I'd so the blocked it.
You did save your time in tanzania that you weren't the same person that you were before. How did the experience change you? I think I grew up a lot in a very short period of time. I had the privilege, They have been able to use my skills and expertise and knowledge to save lives and to reduce suffering. I think that that moment? Really? I decided to be an engineer up until that moment. I had set of drifted from school,
university to a job and I'd enjoyed my job. I enjoy my job very much, but I didn't think I decided I wanted to be an engineer and I think that's what happened in rwanda will find out what happened next after your next piece of music to de Silva. What's it going to be big, yellow taxi by joni mitchell, the lyrics are just fantastic and they just sum up so brilliantly the absurdity of the way in which we destroy nature in
well to to build the world, the man made world that we think we want the trees, mediterranean museum and charge the people a dollar and a half years, the one that always seem to go that you don't know what you've got. It's got the big yellow taxi by joni mitchell, so joe.
silver. As you mentioned, when you came back from tanzania, you had a very serious case of cerebral malaria and the psychological side of what you'd, seen and being true to contend with when it came to tackling that second part of what you d experienced. How did you do it? I realise that I need to talk to someone and I found a very lovely counselor and spent about a year, reliving the experiences and really coming to terms with them and realizing how I changed as a result of those experiences and absorbing the inter you know who I am and, and you know they dissolve, they become part of you, that's what enabled me to move on and and also to step back in to disaster zones and to continue to try and help people. I mean was that scary to to choose to do that again. Afterward
you'd experienced anew in two thousand and four. He went out to sri lanka. After the some day soon. Ami heads the indian ocean, I had a part time finish at cambridge side are developed and expertise and posters.
it's the shelter and when the tsunami happened. I realized that this was the biggest natural disaster that had ever occurred and it was going to be all hands on deck and inevitably someone would call me up and asked me to go and help. My first instinct was to not go ah to help other people go, and then I was called up and asked good work for the, u n and thought this is an opportunity that I really have to take up. So tell me by scent: where were we taking on that about? Five hundred thousand people were displaced as a result of the tsunami in sri lanka, and my role was to get people out of tents into temporary or what we call transitional shelter before the rainy season began.
in november, and everyone raised the challenge and six months later, I realized we ve done it. I've seen some really beautiful photos of family smiling as they settle into the new homes that ye created, which must have been very rewarding, which of those stories have stayed with you most. I wonder yes you're so right, because on the surface, a temporary shelter looks like a set of garden shed. But actually for the family who lives in it. It's a home- and I have I mean so many memories of you- know, handing over the keys to shelters, and they were just so grateful and you'd seen the blake two or three weeks before he knew sitting on the floor in a tent, trying to look after a small baby on a dirt floor and then.
had this very basic building and you go about two months later and they painted the outside division them, flowers in flower pots and laundry on the line and you so normal life. Returning was wonderful tool make time for some more music. Now disk number seven. What's it going to be and why you taking it with you to the island, I did for mountaineering expeditions to kyrgyzstan and the song I've chosen is not dark yet, and I remember listening to this in two thousand and one we had just climbed a mountain that no one to climb before
and we were celebrating at the camp when a message came through on the radio saying that the foreign office said, foreigners should leave kg is done. We had no idea that the twin towers had been destroyed and when we got back to the capital, there was a big conference going on between the various countries in the region to see whether they were willing to put an american air base in kyrgyzstan. That was really the beginning to of a chapter my life, where I decided that I really wanted to use my skills to try and creator a safer and fairer world, and I've taken this sum on almost every trip. I've done.
And listen to it watching the sunset. On the one hand, it's about despair about humanity while on the other, it's not dark yet, and this whole saga is due to the time is not on a feeling. I saw a dusty bob Dylan and not talk yet jody silver in two thousand and seventy founded arab international development. So that's a not for profit, subsidiary of arab and it comes up with human. erin solutions for vulnerable communities? What's the biggest challenge? you're talking at the moment, climate change
overlaid on the challenges of rapidly, the negotiation new people moving into cities and cities growing. Very, very fast, without time to plan them promptly and that's resulting in an awful lot of it, a poverty and inequality and it's a huge challenge because we put a very limited amount of time to really change the situation. There will be a future. You knew for our children from children's children, but the quality of that future will be determined by actions we take over them It's ten years now, Joe I'm pretty confident that when we cast you away today, you're going to be able to design and build a shelter. Have you thought of the design? Already,
It is an island with palm trees. I'll probably make a shelter out of palm leaves, but if it's a rocky island I might have to see if I can go and find a cave before you go to one last track two cheese today, but it can be an why my lost track is cry, shame by jack Johnson. They some really set of sums up everything I feel, which is that it's such a shame that we as a human race, can't wake up to the shed problem that we have, which is making the resources of this very precious planet stretch to meet the needs of everyone on the planet and we address climate change. At the same time, tight game will stop This out of sight
no stay stuff about another now jack Johnson, crying shame, so jody silva, it's time to send you away to the island. I'm gonna give you the books to take with you the complete works of shakespeare, the bible, and you could take one other. What will happen I hope you're going to allow me to take the boardman Tosca omnibus, which is in fact is compilation of the full books that peat boardman and Joe Tasker wrote about their attempts to climb really challenging unclaimed peaks in the himalayas in the nineteen seventies and register astonishing?
worries of human endeavour and survival, and I think it would you spin inspiration and keep me going they yours, absolutely. You can also luxury item. would you like to make life a little bit more livable I'd like a chop boy, which is a traditional indian rope bed. I think it's better than a real bed, because I worry that a real bed were discovery soggy when it rains you can have found absolutely. It sounds like the perfect choice, finally, which one track of the eight that you ve shared with us today. Would you saved from the waves if you had to I think it has to be all the world is green, dame Joanna two silver. Thank you very much for letting us here. Your desert island discs. Thank you. It's been an absolute pleasure. the
the Enjoyed my conversation with Joe, I'm convinced she'll be able to put those palm trees to good use. We ve castaway other engineers, including professor damon, dabbling and doktor, dame sue in you heads tomahawks in our archive to and he can hear these programmes on BBC sounds the.
Transcript generated on 2022-06-05.