(Above image - copyright JTI)

Stuart Marsh is an Associate Director with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. Here he discusses his career, and his work on the JTI Headquarters building, which has been shortlisted in the Structural Awards 2016 ‘Commercial or Retail Structures’ Category.

At school I was always interested in maths and science subjects, with a strong leaning towards free hand and technical drawing, car and house design, metalwork and woodwork. Structural engineering was a natural career choice, as it’s all about creatively using materials to form the safe buildings and structures humanity needs to thrive.

Structural engineers do hugely important, creative work, but we need to be better at demonstrating how our profession’s creativity and skills solve problems, save time and money, and deliver a more sustainable product. At work we need to get better at expressing our opinions about design, and promote systems that enhance the architecture. As a colleague once said: “engineers should design structures that an architect feels bad for covering up!”  
I’m proud of a number of projects on which I’ve worked, including Manhattan Loft Gardens (currently nearing completion in Stratford, London, and a candidate for a future Structural Award), the Seychelles Apartments on the Gold Coast (where I designed every structural element as a young engineer) and the Knightsbridge Apartments and Residences in London.  

The JTI HQ building is another project of which I’m proud, as it featured a lot of engineering challenges: we used sophisticated 3D modelling to achieve the open plan floor spaces, ensuring that the most efficient members possible were used to provide the necessary strength, control vibration and aid efficient service distribution.

(Preparatory sketch - copyright SOM)

Remarkably we supported the building’s entire steel structure during construction, using a sophisticated shoring system - a large scale version of the props builders use to hold up walls and floors – and we also manipulated the building using 1000 tonne jacks, allowing us to get the position of the structure exactly right and achieve the crucial tolerances. Moving an entire building in this way is very rare and in my nearly 25 year career, this is the only time I have done it.  

As far as large office or building projects go, we believe this to be one of the longest, if not the longest cantilever projects in Europe. We’ve shown that these sorts of spans are reasonably economically achievable, providing engineers and architects are willing to work together to develop an appropriate system.

(under construction - copyright SOM)

That’s why it’s always satisfying to work on projects at Skidmore Owings and Merrill: an integral part of the firm’s model is that engineers and architects work closely together – this dates to the firm’s founding where Skidmore and Owings were the architects and Merrill was the engineer.  We find it really helps develop projects in a coherent and coordinated manner, and we believe this leads to better projects.  

I felt an overwhelming sense of achievement to see the JTI HQ completed. It took many years to design and build and has certainly been the most challenging project that I have ever been involved with. Aspects of the structural design are very visual, and I like to think that the building’s expressed engineering will inspire the people who work there. 

Discover more about The Strutural Awards.

(Completed interior - copyright Hufton & Crow)

(Completed extrior - copyright Hufton & Crow)


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