The firm’s partner and tall buildings expert on taking risks, working in Dubai on a tower even taller than the Burj Khalifa and the advantages of getting up early


Why did you choose construction as a career?

I knew from about the age of 15 that I was interested in buildings and the whole process of construction. Initially I thought I wanted to be an architect and a family member, who was in construction, arranged for me to spend some time working in an architecture practice.

During the same trip, I spent some time with the engineers on site and I think that struck more of a chord with me. I enjoyed the practical side of it, solving the logic puzzles that make buildings stand up. And that was it – decision made by 16 to become an engineer.

What are you most proud of in your career to date?

I am proud that I have taken risks. It was a risk moving to Dubai more than 20 years ago, to a place that not many people knew about at the time and that was yet to put its mark on the global skyline. I have also taken risks leaving jobs where I had a lot of security, just so I could keep learning, developing and following my interests.

I would always encourage people to think about the things that are important to them and really motivate them and not to settle for just security or comfort. Take a risk – but take it for the right reason.

What has been the biggest challenge of your career to date?

The biggest challenge is often getting alignment on the various goals, agendas and ambitions of those involved in a project – especially the mega ones. Getting this right from the outset is so important to delivering the best result.

We all have different ways of doing things, and there are different personalities, so getting into a rhythm and making sure we are pulling together to achieve a common goal is key. This requires a lot of patience and listening, but as Ted Happold once said: “All of us are different, that’s why we chose to be together.”

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

To instantly change the global industry’s mindset and action around climate and the environment. Many are already there and pushing the industry to be more sustainable, create less carbon and minimise our impact on the environment, but there is still a long way to go. I would give every business and organisation the skills and technology needed to play their part in delivering net zero 

What is the most helpful advice that you have been given?

Always ask questions – and find the person with the patience to always answer them

Terra Expo2020

Source: Shutterstock

The 4,912 solar panels on Terra, the Sustainability Pavilion’s 130-metre wide canopy and 18 energy trees, helped to generate 4GWh of alternative energy per year, enough electricity to charge more than 900,000 mobile phones

Name your favourite building in the world?

I have been lucky to have been involved in some incredible projects, such as the Museum of the Future and Louvre in Abu Dhabi, both of which are quite spectacular. I will, perhaps self-indulgently, pick a building I worked on – Terra, The Sustainability Pavilion for EXPO 2020.

We set a sustainability framework early on and all design decisions were based on that. It was a real full-team collaboration with sustainability at its heart, and it shows in the pavilion’s green credentials. The building is also beautiful and quite something, especially when you see it in person.

Which famous building do you wish you had worked on?

It would have to be the Burj Khalifa. I was part of a team designing an even taller tower while the Burj Khalifa was still under construction; a project that ultimately fell by the wayside shortly after construction started, as super-tall and mega-tall towers often do. There is no better achievement than seeing your work built though, and all the better that it is the tallest icon in the world.

Burj Khalifa

Source: Shutterstock

With a total height of 829.8m and a roof height (excluding antenna, but including a 242.6m spire) of 828m, the Burj Khalifa has been the tallest building in the world since 2009

What single piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in your profession?

Ask questions!

Who do you most admire in the construction industry?

Someone I have known personally for approaching 20 years, and have worked with initially as a collaborator before  working with him as a colleague at Buro Happold – Anil Hira. A New Zealander who has helped to engineer some of the most amazing buildings around the world, Anil has been a mentor and a strong supporter of mine. I have learnt an awful lot from him. He is the person who has always had the patience to answer my questions!

What is it like being you (and doing your job)?

I love my job. I work with such great people and that makes it so easy sometimes and such a pleasure. My role has developed over the years and I now have more of a birds-eye view of projects. It is great to be able to see the project more holistically and to make sure collaboration is working well with all parties and see potential opportunities or challenges before they arise. I’m still able to dive into deep technical aspects of engineering however, and really enjoy solving problems with the team.

Do you have a life philosophy?

I have never allowed things to worry me that I have no influence over. This has given me a peace of mind that brings clarity.

What do you think your best quality is?

I don’t get stressed easily, so am calm and objective when the pressure is on.

What trait do you most dislike in yourself? And in other people?

I am too optimistic sometimes and have been known to think I have more time than I really have. In others, I dislike unresponsiveness.

Communication is so important, even when it is bad news. It is better to communicate often and early than keep problems to yourself, even when it is not what people want to hear.

Name three things that you like

Sport: triathlon (competing), rugby and football (watching)

Sailing: I love the sea, and this is a great way to enjoy that and to get away from everything

Family: especially when I can combine spending time with family with the sports mentioned above

Tell us about a secret skill that we don’t know you have

I am pretty good at picking up accents, to such an extent that my own is now a mish-mash of a few.

What is your most prized possession?

Honestly, I don’t think I have one. I don’t get particularly attached sentimentally to objects. There is a whole host of things I couldn’t do without, however.

Early bird or night owl?

Most definitely an early bird. I love the peace and quiet, and a great time to exercise to start the day well.

What is your favourite food?

Japanese – but Italian is a close second. We are big foodies in our house, and this is a topic we discuss often.

What would your superpower be?

A photographic memory would be very helpful!