Chris Christoforou, from Thornton Tomasetti, has been a structural engineer for more than 30 years. Here he discusses the Florida Polytechnic University Innovation, Science and Technology (IST) Building, in Florida, USA, which has been shortlisted for The Structural Awards 2015.

I was born and raised on the Mediterranean Island of Cyprus, and the ancient world was a big part of our culture and our early education. The architecture of the ancient world, like The Parthenon, Colisseum and Pyramids, fascinated and inspired me - magnificent structures that survived for thousands of years. From an early age I wanted to be involved in the building industry, either as an architect or engineer, and in the end engineering prevailed.

I have worked on many projects, but the first job I worked on outside of the U.S. was very special: a hotel in Cameroon. We produced documents in French and using the metric system - you can imagine how much fun that was! Comiskey Park in Chicago was another memorable project - we spent 12 hours a day on the site completing and checking the design, working in a rough area of town where we would find bullet holes in our trailer and had a few computers stolen. We were tested on that job, but we came through with flying colors, and it opened the door for a lot of other work.

The IST building has been another remarkable project. Academic buildings are no longer just classrooms, libraries or labs. Now they are places that inspire and promote collaboration, interaction, interdisciplinary study and innovation. They are no longer places you go to learn, but rather to create while learning.

The IST building was designed by renowned architect and engineer, Santiago Calatrava, and is unlike any other. Serving as a miniature campus (until more University structures are completed)  it features an arched pergola, a vaulted skylight, and solar-shading louvers, which are individually controlled and follow the course of the sun throughout the day, providing shade for the commons below. The building’s football-shaped silhouette establishes a bold architectural tone for future campus development, serving to inspire students, faculty, employees, and all who visit it.

It was a special project because there was such close collaboration between engineer, architect and contractor – so much so that other team members commented that they didn’t see where the structural engineering ended and fabrication/construction began. That’s is the ideal perception, and it will always be reflected in the excellence of the completed project.

That’s not to say there weren’t challenges – but problem solving is an essential component of the engineer’s role, and one we enjoy. We also now have invaluable new technology to help us in our work, like 3-D software, which reduces the need for draftsmen and allows us to see the building structure on screen, identifying potential issues long before they become practical problems.

It gives me a sense of great pride and accomplishment to have been a part of the IST project. You love all the projects you work on, but everyone involved knew that we were part of something very special. I was privileged to have been a part of it and work with some of the most talented professionals in the business. The fact that this building will be the main focus of this new university campus for many years, inspiring teachers and students alike, is a feeling that cannot be matched.

Visit The Structural Awards website to learn more about the Awards.


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