As a practicing designer as well an early and continuing advocate for climate action in engineering, Tanya also shares some of her thoughts on the potential impact this change can bring to all projects and structural engineering professionals.
Great engineering can and should leave the world a better place than we found it. The shift in focus of the Structural Awards in 2022 towards Planet as one of the four P attributes (Planet, People, Process, Profession) provides the opportunity to inspire, inform and activate everyone in our profession to engineer in a way that secures life on earth for current and future generations. Through the celebration of technical excellence, innovation and delivery of elegant solutions that also demonstrate significantly reduced and ideally positive impact on our planet, we have the opportunity to create a catalyst for change and evolve the Structural Engineering Profession.
Historically, Public Safety has rightly been at the core of IStructE, and we celebrated this through recognition of technical excellence, complexity, beauty, elegance and inspiring structures. This new approach to focus the Award on Planet is based on acknowledging the detrimental impact construction currently has on global warming and the contribution of structural engineering to this problem. It also acknowledges the power we have to positively impact the world around us and address Climate Action through our profession. We can no longer celebrate good design and great structures in terms of magnitude alone measured in height, length, artistry, ingenuity & complexity without aligning these achievements with their impact on the planet and contribution to climate action. Whilst there is still an essential need for our skills to ensure safe structures that also contribute to joy and delight in the built environment, it is imperative that we redefine what ‘great’ engineering means in the context of the Climate Emergency. Today, protecting the Planet is elevated to equal importance as safety and of utmost urgency.
The competing demands on design and construction often mean that whilst we may care deeply about the environment and want to ensure we have a positive impact, it is much more challenging to deliver on these ideals in meaningful ways and we all need to work together, learn from each other, and understand what practical actions we can implement now. Awarding structural engineering achievement in the context of Planet starts with recognising;
Engineering and Engineers who deliver lower carbon projects beyond and perhaps in spite of the Client brief for the benefit of Planet, People and Project
The ability of the engineer to save existing structures, identify reuse, or work to maximise the potential of existing materials, and contribute to reinvigorating or reimagining an old building in a new and innovative way
Skill and expertise of engineers to intentionally design efficiently in order to reduce material usage
Appropriateness of materials selection, specification and application along with materials contribution to form, aesthetics and celebration of structure
Innovation or proactive research and development of material or engineering techniques to achieve new ways to deliver lower carbon design
Intentional and thorough study and analysis leading to reduced impact of structural design on climate
Designing for longevity and adaptive reuse
Creating of novel processes or collaboration across the built environment leading to whole project or industry wide movement towards net zero carbon buildings
Communication and raising awareness of engineering techniques and delivery that helps others understand and contribute to Climate action
Measurable impact and outcomes related the contribution to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG’s) and specifically those focused on Planet and People
So what does this value shift mean to the judges reviewing the project submissions in reality? I can only share my perspective. Projects that showcased the skill, innovation, technical expertise, collaboration, communication, inspiration and commitment to Climate Action, often despite the project brief were submissions that I recognised in the Planet Category for the awards. I also looked for acknowledgement of the overlap between Planet and People. For all the shortlisted and awarded projects, it was imperative that building safety and engineering excellence were not compromised in any way.
As structural engineers we are afforded the privilege of creating the built environment, and now we must celebrate our contributions to protecting it and inspiring others to design and to build in ways that urgently address climate action.
It is significant that these awards now demonstrate a shift towards Planet. We have made a change, which is certainly progress, and still we have more to do! Structural Awards that celebrate Planet are a great inspiration for everyone to follow and together we must also continue to evolve and shift. This isn’t a destination, it is the start and as we learn more we will continue to change, as we must, and potentially the awards will continue to reflect these changes in order to celebrate, inspire, and create change in their own right.
Founding Director, Thornton Tomasetti (London)
Tanya is a Structural Engineer with nearly 25 years of design experience working on a diverse range of award winning and landmark projects globally. In 2006, Tanya founded Thornton Tomasetti’s London office and now leads the firms Social Impact Initiative from New York. She is passionate about projects and collaborations that deliver positive impact to communities by applying engineering expertise, innovative approaches and technology to create new solutions. Celebrating the role of the engineer in society is important to Tanya and she believes the Institution provides the opportunity for access to community, resources, technical progression that allow this to happen. She is actively engaged in several committees and judging panels for the institution and sits on several other committees outside engineering but within the built environment to promote the role of the engineer as an active participant in shaping the future of the built environment.