Seb Kaminski MIStructE
Date published

15 February 2021

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Seb Kaminski MIStructE

Career Profiles
Date published

15 February 2021

Seb Kaminski MIStructE talks about his experiences in the humanitarian and international development sector. Seb is a full member of the Institution's Humanitarian and International Development Panel.


Describe your current role


I work in Arup’s Specialist Technology & Research Team. Part of the team’s role is to provide specialist structural engineering support and training. My areas of expertise are timber, bamboo, seismic design, seismic retrofit and appropriate technologies in humanitarian and developing contexts. I am a member of the ISO TC165 Working Group 12 updating the ISO bamboo structural design code, and B/525/8 and CEN/TC 250/SC 8/WG3 updating the timber section of Eurocode 8 – seismic design.

Approximately half of my time is spent on projects in humanitarian and developing contexts, the remainder is on more conventional projects. Some typical humanitarian and development projects that I’m currently involved in include:

  • The seismic retrofit of a school in the Himalayas

  • Advice to the Shelter Cluster on the construction of safe bamboo housing for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

  • Strategic seismic retrofit and reconstruction support to a nationwide school programme in Latin America

 

Describe your path to your current role


At University, I took part in the construction of housing for low-income communities in El Salvador. This experience was eye-opening and humbling. I was able to see first-hand how some communities live. I also saw the opportunities for “good” engineering undertaken in collaboration with the local community to improve resilience and living conditions. This spurred me to work more in the development sector.

After graduating in 2007, I worked in Arup’s Building Engineering London team, where I developed a good grounding in structural engineering. I worked on a variety of buildings around the world using different materials.

One of my projects was the development of a vernacular-improved construction technology for Latin America, using local materials. This demonstrated to me the importance of appropriate materials, appropriate technologies and community participation in the design process.

In 2014 I took a sabbatical from Arup to work independently in Latin America. This gave me the opportunity to complete the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) excellent Shelter and Settlements in Emergencies course. I delivered training on bamboo construction in Haiti and expanded my experience working in developing country contexts.

After returning to Arup in 2015, I joined the Specialist Technology & Research Team. There I am involved in projects varying from providing a half hour of advice, to managing a team and leading detailed design and delivery.

Specific projects which I have learnt from include providing technical support and training to NGOs after the Nepal 2016, Ecuador 2016 and Indonesia 2019 earthquakes, and also in the Rohingya 2017 refugee crisis, and participating in the EEFIT mission to Ecuador in 2016.


Are there any key things you did, or learnt, that helped you on your career path?


The key things I learnt that have helped me on my career path when working in humanitarian and developing contexts are:

  • Get a good well-rounded grounding in structural engineering, ideally using as many materials as possible

  • Always consider the wider context

  • Involve the right team, made up of individuals with an understanding of working in the sector

  • Be modest, respect the knowledge of those working in the context, and listen to their constructive criticism

  • Avoid bringing in alien materials, technologies or skills

When these principles are followed, engineers have a real opportunity to contribute positively to the humanitarian and development sector.


What are your future career aspirations?


To continue to contribute both strategically and with detailed design to support the humanitarian and development sector. The ideal is that these contexts can over time support themselves with little to no outside intervention.


What motivates you to work in relief/development?


There are few experienced engineers in the sector, and there appears to be a real need for technical support, so I try and contribute to filling this gap.


Who should become a structural engineer working in the humanitarian or development sectors?


Anyone who:

  • Wants to contribute towards improving the resilience of low-income communities in the developing world

  • Is modest

  • Has a desire to keep learning, not just technically but also about the sociological aspects of working in the sector


How is membership of the Institution relevant and useful to your work in international development or humanitarian work?


The Institution, through its website, journals, newsletters and social media, provides a valuable network to distribute case studies and guidance around the world. They also help me to continue to learn from others.

 

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