It's very heartening. There's an awful lot of concern about the status of consulting engineering, and whether we're attracting the right calibre of people to take it forwards.
My views are just one of many, but it was nice for me that the ACE acknowledged them. Especially as I'm setting up a practice that will hopefully demonstrate they have some worth.
So what ideas did you put forward?
I'm really concerned that a building's engineering design should be integrated, and we don't end up with individually designed solutions that don't work together. Often, the decisions taken by the structural engineer on the frame influence the environmental systems, but the services engineer is sitting in another part of the office. The communication about cross-benefits doesn't seem to happen in many offices, so the new practice is going to integrate structural and services engineering from the word go. Traditionally, practices are set up by an engineer from one discipline, who is unwilling to take on staff from the other until the firm is established.
How will that work in practice?
My partner Mike Shaw is a structural engineer, and we have made the decision that if we get more of one type of work than the other, we'll each do the detailing for the other and so learn about structural and services engineering that way. My ambition – although it might be a bit far-fetched – is to get chartered membership of the Institute of Structural Engineers. Eventually, we want to employ open-minded graduates who will be exposed to all the disciplines, although they will specialise. If we aim to integrate the building design, we can't work as separate groups with separate cost centres.
We want to employ open-minded graduates who will be exposed to all the disciplines, even though they will specialise
But are clients ready for this?
Architects and clients want to have an engineer at the table who can make a decision. With a conventional practice, if you don't send a structural, electrical and mechanical engineer, clients hear "we'll get back to you in a fortnight". We're trying to create people who can make strategic decisions across the board. In software engineering, they're called "systems integrators".
Is it daunting to set up on your own?
It's something I've been thinking about for four years. I joined Buro Happold three years ago to get valuable experience of a large international practice and work with fine structural engineers. In January, I gave myself a deadline of 1 July, but we've already got so much work from contacts I'm leaving at the end of May. The practice will be based near Bath and is called King Shaw Associates – we agonised over it for months, but couldn't come up with anything better!
Doug King can be contacted by email on email@example.com.