An Examination of Creativity – Could the Channel Tunnel Be Described as Creative?

‘Creativity’ is an abstract concept that we all seek but that few of us can define. Problems understanding the term are highlighted by the fact that even the most mundane constructions and items could be described as creative. To illustrate this fact this article will examine the channel tunnel and how it could be construed as ‘creative’ through references to psychological studies and papers.

The channel tunnel is described by Camp (1997) at the Department of civil engineering in Memphis University as one of the seven wonders of the modern world. The description of it from the official website (Eurotunnel 2009) states that it is the longest underwater tunnel in the world and was opened on 6th May 1994. The total distance of the tunnel is 50 kilometres (km) which runs under the English Channel between Folkstone (England) and Pas-de-Calais (France), with 38km of the tunnel underwater. The tunnel is an average of 40metres (m) below the sea bed. The tunnel comprises of three separate tunnels; two tunnels are 30m apart and each contains a single track with trains travelling in opposite directions. Every 375m both tunnels are connected to a central service tunnel, which serves as a maintenance and evacuation tunnel in the event of an emergency. This report will discuss that although the tunnel is necessary and valuable it is not as creative as it appears.

Boden (2004) suggests that for something to be viewed as creative it should be valuable. For the following reasons it is argued that the creation of the channel tunnel is valuable. Keeble, Owens and Thompson (1982) state that the tunnel would bring Britain closer to the continent and be physically part of mainland Europe. They state that although the initial thoughts were that the tunnel would only improve the economy in Southern England and the adjacent French regions (such as the coal, steel and textiles industry around Calais, Ardill et al 1987), in reality due to improved rail networks it would also stimulate the depressed North West of England’s economy. Vickerman and Flowerdew (1990) highlight further political benefits of the tunnel. They state that in the past Britain’s island status has been advantageous (a defence against foreign invasion), but it had become an economic hindrance. At the time their book went to press they were aware of the European single market to be formed in 1992. This meant that goods could be moved around freely between countries with no physical boundaries. Therefore the tunnel was necessary as faster and better transport was required to allow companies to export goods around Europe. A further economical knock on effect was that due to improved rail access and transport connections to the continent, the location of businesses was no longer determined, meaning businesses no longer need to cluster their warehouses around ferry ports such as south east England, Calais and Belgium. They could spread out around the country bringing income to the respective areas they locate to, and not ruin the environment of the port areas. Some could even relocate to a more central point within ‘the golden triangle’ of London, Paris and the Rhine Valley and have easy rail transport to each city.

It should be noted that the foresight of humans to see an object and realise that it can be tunnelled through is creative in itself. To not take that object at face value and not see it as an impenetrable entity is beyond the capabilities of some creatures. Some important individual inputs were all necessary in the idea to create the channel tunnel. Vickerman and Flowerdew (1990) states the first person to propose a tunnel was Albert Mathieu in 1802. Beaver (1972) adds that the first person to survey to build a channel tunnel was Thome de Gammond in 1832. This was necessary as De Gammond concluded that a bridge would not stand up to the storms, and agreed a tunnel should be built. Vickerman and Flowerdew (1990) recall that in 1986 the Eurotunnel group was accepted to build the tunnel. Eurotunnel would have needed to show some form of creativity to make it viable for the modern era. Although the Eurotunnel group showed innovation to design and create the tunnel, this was based on the creative idea of Mathieu who showed the abstract thought necessary to think to build a tunnel where one had never been built before (under water). It should be acknowledged however, that each input was necessary.

Further theory that Eurostar were not creative comes from of two types of thinking that are both evident in the tunnel. Divergent and convergent thinking, outlined by Guildford (1956), cited by Glover, Ronning and Reynolds (1989). Divergent is a free way of thinking to solve a problem using creativity to generate an idea, as Mathieu did. The Eurostar group then applied convergent thinking which is a structured method of thinking to give a standard answer to problem. This would be the problem of actually making the tunnel, where they would have applied the maths and the necessary logistics for construction. The two methods of thinking compliment each other as some individuals have a creative mind but no knowledge of how to put their idea into action, allowing somebody else who is not imaginative but have the knowledge to take the idea and make it happen.

A distinction is made by Boden (2004) between historical creativity and psychological creativity. Historical creativity is when an idea is thought of that nobody has thought of before, whereas psychological creativity is a new idea to that individual but it may have been thought of previously. Beaver (1972) wrote a history of tunnels. Beaver states that tunnelling was mans first exercise in engineering and dates back as early as when cavemen tunnelled to enlarge their caves and the Egyptian kings forcing slaves to tunnel into rock to make their tomb. Therefore tunnelling on land is a very old and familiar idea, and a concept that can easily be related to. Beaver (1972) states the first significant underwater tunnel was the Severn tunnel linking Bristol and Wales by going under the river Severn. Although the idea of an underwater tunnel was imagined by Mathieu, he made no practical suggestions on how to build one and considered no mode of transport. The Severn tunnel also had tracks within it for trains. Historical creativity therefore (as there is no previous evidence of train tracks in a tunnel under water) is evident in the Severn tunnel, not as the first underwater tunnel, but as the first one built for trains. This causes doubt over whether the designers of the channel tunnel even showed psychological creativity, as they would have been aware of the Severn tunnel. It should be noted that in building a tunnel in the modern era, problems that were not evident in the Severn tunnel would have had to have been overcome due to safety regulations.

It could be argued that what Boden (2004) describes as a combination of existing knowledge was used, where relational knowledge links together two familiar areas (travelling and tunnelling) in an unfamiliar way (under water). The knowledge that people would desire to travel across the channel, together with the knowledge that trains would be able to travel within the tunnel was combined to create a faster and more effective method of crossing the channel. Although again, this would have also been evident when making the Severn tunnel, so perhaps that tunnel should take the credit of combinational creativity.

Another applicable concept of creativity mentioned by Boden (2004) is exploration (exploring the same conceptual space). Although tunnelling under the channel is a new method of getting across it, the concept of going across it remains the same. This could already be achieved by catching a boat or a plane. Therefore no transformation has occurred as the outcome of the action is still that people get from one side of the channel to the other. The exploration factor is that it is achieved by a newer, faster method. An improvement highlighted by Vickerman and Flowerdew (1990) who discuss the pre tunnel states of ferries and planes (they were within the existing conceptual space). The time saved by using the tunnel is around 30-60 minutes. From a financial perspective the tunnel does not have to pay dock charges, and had had 3000 less staff to pay than the ferries. As for planes, the tunnel takes away the effort of hanging around in airports which is boring and time consuming, additionally the tunnel is cheaper to travel on. The exploration of the space is clear as this evidence that shows the tunnel to be an improved method of achieving the same goal as previous methods.

A crucial component that the tunnel could not have been built without is an advance in both tunnelling technology and train technology. Tunnelling technology comes in the evolution of drills. Ardill et al (1987) recall that De Gammond leapt off the side off his boat with a bag of stones to weigh him down and used inflated pig bladders for air to test the seabed. Beaver (1972) states that when attempting a failed tunnel under the Thames in 1807 the tunnel was dug manually. By the 1970’s jack drills, shuttle cars and mechanical shovels were being used. Ardil et al (1987) state that for both the failed attempt in 1974 and the successful channel tunnel, tunnel boaring machines were used. They could dig at 6m an hour. Due to the chalk being so hard a German Putzmeister machine was used to turn the chalk into paste and pump it away. All of these discoveries in drill evolution are vital inventions, each improving on the last version. Without them the project would not have been possible.

To make the tunnel valuable the emphasis has come on its speed that is useful for passengers and the economy. This is only possible and safe through train technology. The institute of mechanical engineers (1992) report that high speed trains would be deployed, not just in the tunnel but between Calais, Lille and Brussels.

Another view on creativity was taken by Stenberg (1999). To be creative something needs to be original (new) and appropriate (useful). The evidence above suggests the tunnel is appropriate but by this definition the tunnel is not original as other underwater tunnels had been built, although Mathieu’s original idea may have been creative. A practical link to creativity is whether it is useful at an individual and society level. At the individual level it needs to impact on everyday life, which to due shortening travelling times it does, and to be creative at the society level it needs to be a new social programme. As the tunnel links two countries it is very much in society. The third and very applicable point he makes about creativity is whether it has economic importance. As the tunnel links Britain to industrial Europe and has made importing and exporting easier it is fair to say that the economy has been boosted. Sternbergs’s approach focuses more on creativity in terms of new practical benefits, whereas Boden (other than if it is valuable) is concerned more theoretically with creativity by examining conceptual space and historical and psychological creativity.

There is likely to be no future creative ideas in this field. It is hard to see what in this area would be more impressive than tunnelling under the sea, and as shown there has not been many developments of the initial idea in this area in the last 200 years. It has just been possible to make more tunnels due to an advance in technology. The only development left would be longer tunnels and faster trains under an ocean. In which case the best method of transport for this long haul journey would still be the plane, as it unlikely that a train as fast as a plane will be invented.

This essay has shown that a progression through time lasting nearly 200 years was necessary for the channel tunnel to be created, and its creation was dependent on many things. This started with tunnelling on land, the idea to tunnel under water by Mathieu, further studies by people such as De Gammond to rule out other methods of crossing such as bridges, it has had the hindsight of seeing other underwater tunnels created as a model including the Severn crossing complete with train tracks, it has depended on the evolution of appropriate drills to make the tunnel, and the evolution of safety technology to prevent and deal with disasters. It was necessary that a union was formed between European countries to stave of the threat of war that had hampered previous projects or there would not have been enough trust between the governments to build the tunnel. Knowledge and creation from all this, when combined has helped create the longest and most impressive underwater tunnel in the world, and although the Eurotunnel group may not have been theoretically psychologically or historically creative, this new way of crossing the channel has shown practical creativity and has proved to be valuable for travelling and for the economy.

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