Bringing a unique skillset to New Zealand

After a career path that’s anything but traditional, Dr Andrew Crowley has recently moved from the UK to take up the role of Chartered Structural Engineer at Prendos. We talk to him about how his knowledge might be of use here in New Zealand.

After a lifelong interest in science, engineering and the built environment, it came as no surprise when Andrew began his career in the field of structural engineering. What has been a surprise, however, is where his profession has taken him since then. From IT in construction to health and safety and, more recently, security engineering for the UK Intelligence Services, Andrew has a unique set of skills that he’s looking forward to applying here.

“You could say my career has taken many twists and turns,” Andrew explains. “I’ve been fortunate enough to continue learning throughout my working life – developing new skills and being challenged to stretch myself. It’s always been a pipe dream of mine to work in New Zealand or Australia, so when the opportunity came up at Prendos, I took the chance.”

As a Chartered Structural Engineer, Andrew is already applying his extensive experience to new design/build projects, refurbishment, inspections, appraisals and seismic assessments and strengthening. He’s built up this expertise over a 33 year career, which began with his first graduate role at Ove Arup & Partners – who were, at the time, the biggest and most prestigious consulting engineers in the world.

“As a keen graduate, this was the programme you wanted to be on, so I was lucky to be selected. It was 1986: London was booming and demand for structural engineers was high. It was the start of the ‘big bang’ – the stock market and financial services sector had been deregulated, and everyone wanted modern commercial office space in London. Most building stock just wasn’t suitable, so there was a lot of knocking down and building new.”

“It was an interesting time to be part of so much construction innovation; from the early days of CAD and 3D modelling, composite and ‘fast-track’ construction, to the introduction of ‘air rights’ – or the ability to construct an office block in the ‘air space’ above a railway station or road.”

“There were some parts of London that hadn’t been touched since the Second World War – so almost every week, contractors digging foundations would come across unexploded ordnance, undocumented structures, or even plague pits.”

Andrew’s career then took him to other parts of the UK where he worked on structural engineering projects for everything from new hotels to private hospitals. He then entered the academic world as a Research Fellow at Leeds University, where he delved into the application of IT in construction and ended up at the forefront of some key developments.

“It was back in 1992 and recession had hit the UK,” Andrew explains. “I took a two year contract at Leeds University looking specifically a project called CIMsteel (Computer Integrated Manufacturing for Constructional Steel work). It was about applying the techniques learnt in the manufacturing sector to the construction sector – such as automation and computer-controlled machinery. At the time, most drawings and calculations were still done by hand. The internet was around but very few people had it – high technology was sending a fax! Lots of software applications were available, but they were stand-alone – so we worked on integration systems that would get them to talk to one another.”

Andrew’s two year contract ended up being a six year stint at the University, and saw him complete a PhD in the Development and Implementation of Product Modelling.

“Product Modelling was the forerunner for the Building Information Modelling (BIM) system we use today. It was about pulling together detailed components and material specifications within an electronic model. I also developed a standard for data exchange – known as the CIMsteel Integration Standards, which was endorsed both in the UK and US.”

Andrew then worked at the Steel Construction Institute for nine years, primarily to develop his CIMsteel Integration Standards. He also promoted a new, more collaborative, way of working between consultants, steel fabricators and contractors, to help them ‘buy into’ and adopt the new technology.

“It was an interesting period. Technology changes so quickly and it’s hard to keep up, but the work I was involved in has given me a real insight into how IT can enable and add value to the industry. What’s amazing is seeing how the work we did back then has led to some big transformations in construction design, and how it’s progressed into the tools we use every day.”

Andrew also developed a specialism in seismic engineering, thanks largely to a role as Head of Structural Engineering for a division of the Ministry of Defence.

“The MoD had a lot of old building stock that required regular inspection and maintenance. They also had new builds where designs needed to be checked against relevant standards. A large part of this was seismic design, so it’s certainly an area I’m equipped to advise on here in New Zealand.”

Another area where Andrew can add value is Health & Safety design in construction. When he first started out, Health & Safety on construction sites in the UK was virtually non-existent: workers often wore no hard hats, gloves or goggles, and deaths on construction sites were seen as simply ‘part of the job’. Following major incidents (such as the Piper Alpha oil explosion), it was recognised that the attitude and approach to Health & Safety needed to change.

“The Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations were introduced to improve the health, safety and welfare of those working in construction. They set up a legal requirement for designers to think about the safety of construction, and we started working on design engineering techniques that could make the workplace safer. My career has given me an inherent safety/security based mentality, which is something I believe could be of use in this country.”

“New Zealand currently has the highest construction death rate in the western world. I think a step change in safety culture is required, much like what the UK went through. Site Safe NZ is doing a great job but, as in Britain, while the big construction sites are the safest, it’s the little ones that sometimes fly under the radar. Kiwis have a natural tendency to think ‘she’ll be right; it’s only a little job’. This has to change.”

Another challenging role in Andrew’s career was his most recent position, at a company that specialised in security engineering and offered advice to the UK Intelligence Services. Andrew looked at the physical aspect of security engineering, such as Hostile Vehicle Mitigation (HVM) – or trying to stop vehicle bombs entering buildings. More recently, this became about stopping people using vehicles as a weapon, as had tragically happened in Nice in 2016 and on London Bridge in 2017.

“HVM involves looking at possible attack approaches and approach speeds, assessing the threat and coming up with mitigation measures, such as metal balustrades and bollards. The other aspect of my role was Explosive Consequence Analysis, or looking at the potential damage a bomb might cause to buildings and people. It was a very specialist area, and one that was sometimes difficult to be part of.”

“Somewhat ironically, just before I arrived in New Zealand, the atrocious attack on the Christchurch mosque occurred. It’s something no one expected to happen here, and I think it’s heightened the country’s awareness of potential threats. While I’m here to primarily work on structural engineering projects, I do have security experience that not many in this country would have, which I’m happy to share.”

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