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Lee Franck MIStructE

Lee Franck discusses her career and the kind of people structural engineers will need to be in the future.

What inspired you to become a structural engineer?

In school, I was good at maths and physics, but I also really liked making things, so engineering sounded like a good combination of my skills and passions. In the end I decided to study structural engineering, because having travelled as a child with my parents, I had developed a fascination for bridges, such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

It’s definitely the people I worked with that have had the greatest impact on my career so far. I was fortunate to have a great manager and mentor in the early years of my career who taught me a great deal of technical skills and inspired me through his passion for our profession.

A project that had a profound impact on my career was working with NGO “Bridges to Prosperity”, designing and building footbridges in Rwanda and Panama. It was then when I realised first hand that structural engineering can change people’s lives.


How would you define structural engineering?

It’s the art and science of shaping large-scale physical objects that provide shelter, opportunity, connectivity and delight to people.

Without structural engineers we would not feel safe in our buildings, especially in extreme situations such as earthquakes. Structural engineers also help make efficient use of resources by optimising designs in multi-disciplinary settings, bringing new life to old structures. They also inspire people through structural beauty.


Who should become a structural engineer?

Being reasonably good at maths and sciences is important, but these are not the only criteria.

Structural engineers need to either possess or develop the skill to work with variables, to feel comfortable navigating ambiguities and unknowns, to enjoy working in teams and in a collaborative environment, to be naturally curious and good at communicating, to embrace technology and be prepared for a lifetime of learning.

We need to change the way we assess candidates to enter structural engineering studies and therefore the type of people we attract into the profession if we want to be equipped to address the challenges of today and the future.


What are the greatest achievements in your career?

Early on in my career, I had the chance to lead a small project, the Timber Wave, a temporary art installation in front of the Victoria and Albert Museum for the London Design Festival in 2011.

Although small in scale, this project profoundly marked me as a structural engineer, because it showed me how through close collaboration between architects, engineers and fabricators (assisted by digital tools) it is possible to get to this magical point - where structural efficiency, sculptural quality and buidability all come together in one design. The sense of achievement resides in overcoming all the ups and downs and the strong bond that was created in the team to take the project through the finish line.

In 2012, a friend and I started a conference entitled the “Future of Design” hosted by IABSE (International Association for Bridges and Structural Engineering). We felt that there was a lack of events where built environment professionals could get together outside of their own disciplines and discuss topics which had a more overarching focus on themes of high importance now and in the future.

“Future of Design” aims at exploring new ways of designing, building and collaborating and has since its start become a bi-annual event in the UK and annual event in New York attracting over 150 delegates. What makes me particularly proud is that each year the event is being carried forward by a new group of people who align with its vision and feel passionate about pushing boundaries and preparing our industry for the future.


Why did you become a Chartered Member?

I decided to work towards chartership, because the preparation for the exam was a very effective way of equipping myself with the many technical skills required at that stage of my career. I also had made it something like a personal challenge to become Chartered as quickly as possible.  


How do you interact with the Institution?

When I was working in London, I would regularly attend events at the IStructE including the Gold Medal Address or other technical lecture series. I generally found them insightful and engaging thanks to the high-quality of the speakers chosen.

I am particularly interested in activities that allow structural engineers to come together not only as a discipline, but as a group of like-minded multi-disciplinary professionals in the built environment with a focus on the challenges of the future and the skills required to tackle them.

I have always found IStructE resources to be very high quality and easy to use.





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