Philip Cooper tells us why structural engineering is all about using your imagination
Cambridge is a hot property area at the moment. How are you exploiting this?
We have managed to secure a disused Rattee & Kett building for our offices. There are lots of opportunities in Cambridge and I have plenty of clients in the area but it is frustrating that London is the centre of decision making. I just have to divide my time between the two areas because the buildings don't come to us.

What have you felt most proud of in your career so far?
I was particularly pleased with one of my most unusual buildings, a theatre in Ilfracombe, Devon, built beside the waves. We decided to give it a modern focus and designed a set of conical forms. Everybody said: "Don't use brick, you must use steel," but we knew that the previous building had a steel frame that corroded in the salty sea air. We stuck to our guns and now it is aptly named the Landmark Theatre.

Will your job entail much conservation?
I will primarily try to expand structural experience in the new office, helping other engineers to focus on creative design. But I will be doing lots of conservation work and am keen to be identified as a structural engineer who uses conservation in conjunction with new buildings. My role will also change to cover Bill Taylor's retirement from his position as senior partner, later this year.

Are you planning any innovative work at the moment?
When I was working on the Lancaster University Library, I was thwarted by cash problems and forced to use concrete beams instead of timber for the roof. I had devised a way of using a grid of timber beams that were pre-stressed together by applying and tightening steel. This technique is normally used on concrete and I hope to try it with timber in a future design. We're going to try to work with new materials like glass and carbon fibre as well as older stone and brick.

Unlike most engineers, you are very design led. Why and how has it paid off?
It goes back to my university days. I studied architectural engineering, which was a new degree at Leeds. It was basically civil engineering but my tutor, the late Bill Horton Evans, opened my eyes to creative architecture. I now use those skills, and architects love my approach. I try to satisfy architects, however outlandish or impossible their ideas may seem. Never say no to an architect.

Did you pass on these tips to the students at Leeds University?
I always tell young engineers to open their eyes. Structural engineering is a great career because you see the fruits of your labours. I want students to have an imaginative approach. Above all, engineering is the power to predict.

Philip Cooper

Age 53

Job Technical director at Cambridge office of consulting engineer Cameron Taylor Bedford

Employment history Started as a research worker at Cambridge University and became a lecturer there before moving to Harris & Sutherland (now Babtie) as consultant engineer. Became the first professor of structural design at Leeds University and directed Harris & Sutherland’s Cambridge office.

Qualifications BSc, MA, member of the Institute of Structural Engineers and retained engineer for the Royal Academy of Arts

Lives Cambridge

Interests Tennis, theatre, member of his church