Gemma Lockwood is a Chartered Senior Engineer at WSP. She has been a member of the Institution since 2012. Last year she entered our Young Structural Engineers International Design Competition, with a brief to design a temporary accommodation solution for use in the wake of natural disasters. This year she was awarded the John Barrett Prize (alongside team mate Elizabeth Side from Mann Williams) for her Competition entry, “The Triangular One”.

I know it sounds like a cliché but it was my parents who inspired me to become a structural engineer. They built my childhood home around me, so I essentially grew up on a building site. I was lucky to have a head for numbers and applied mathematics was certainly where my strengths lied, so structural engineering was the obvious choice.

I decided to enter the Young Structural Engineers International Design Competition as I had just finished the preparation for the Institution’s Chartered Membership exam, and completed a house renovation – and for some reason I thought I had too much time on my hands. I must’ve been mad! Joking aside. I had an idealistic hope that we could provide a design which would make a real difference to those unfortunate enough to be affected by a natural disaster.

In an idealistic world, we would be able to design out housing crises following natural disasters like earthquakes. However in reality, we inevitably are surrounded by aging or inadequate infrastructure, in both developed and developing countries. That means transitional shelters will continue to be needed for the foreseeable future.

From the outset, we realised that there was no “capture all” design that would work for every post-disaster situation. Therefore Elizabeth and I prioritised factors like transportability, buildablility and speed of erection, allowing our shelter to be constructed (and modified in the future) by non-skilled labour.

I’m still shocked that we won the Award! But obviously I’m delighted too. I hope that this isn’t the end of our involvement with the design, and hopefully it can be developed to make a real difference in disaster relief efforts.

I would relish the opportunity to work with disaster relief / aid agencies further in the future, where engineers are vital to preparedness and relief efforts.

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