You were recently involved in the designs for 22 Bishopsgate, the second tallest building in the UK. Can you tell me about your role and what makes this building so smart?
I was brought onto the project in 2015 to design the foundations for the new tower, but gradually I inherited more elements of the structure. By 2017, I was leading the design coordination of the whole building. It was a huge and fascinating project. The building has been designed in such a way that it is responsive to its environment. The windows have a triple glazed facade that regulates the amount of solar energy that goes into the building, and the blinds inside open, shut and rotate to adapt to the sunlight. This technology minimises the amount of energy needed to cool down the building. It also has software tools to monitor and adapt all the services, such as air conditioning and heating. It's all integrated and responds to demand.
Is this the future of infrastructure and design?
Absolutely, I think all buildings will reach this level of automation. It’s also about being smart with our materials and using what we already have. For this project, we reused existing foundations built for another tower and adapted them for the new building. Making this decision was a real challenge, but the emissions generated from the rest of the process were 40 per cent less than what we would have if we had built the foundations from scratch.
You are also a champion of Steel Zero. Can you tell me about this initiative and why it’s important?
Steel Zero is an initiative set up to address the challenge of decarbonising the steel industry by gradually increasing demand of low carbon steel, sending a signal to the industry that this is the direction of travel, and supporting the industry in their journey. We are currently the only consultant to be member of Steel Zero, but we joined the initiative because we believe it is the most sustainable way of addressing the challenge.
Are there any other ways that we can improve the use of materials in our infrastructure?
As engineers, we need to focus on designing things more efficiently and using less materials. For example, instead of demolishing steel beams, so the steel elements get melted and recycled, why not reuse them? Take the steel section and put it somewhere else in a new building. Do a bit of testing, a bit of cleaning, and adapt the architecture and structure so that it fits this inventory of existing elements. That is a much more efficient way of using the materials that we already have. And that applies to steel, it applies to concrete, applies to bricks and masonry, and more.
It sounds like a great approach. But I imagine it's not always straightforward! Can you illustrate any challenges that you've overcome in the pursuit of a greener future?
I think that one of the biggest challenges is that the construction industry is geared up in one way, and it is slow to change. If reducing the use of a material leads to a path where a specific product becomes less relevant or even redundant, then you have an industry that could become irrelevant or redundant. So, we will try to achieve a sustainable transition.
What motivates you to keep going when you are faced with these challenges?
I became an engineer because of that sense of accomplishment, pride and satisfaction of building something, but also because of the impact of those things. My dad didn’t just build roads, he built roads to connect communities. So that's what I want to do. I want to challenge the status quo, change cities, and change lives. I stopped eating meat, but that is so tiny compared to the power that I have to reduce emissions in my role; 1% of the emissions of 22 Bishopsgate are equivalent to 100 years of emissions of the average UK person. And that's my responsibility, that's what motivates me because I can make a massive difference in the journey to net zero.
So with that in mind, what is the end goal of your work? And what are you personally working towards or hoping to achieve?
I'm trying to completely eliminate embodied carbon from all buildings, so they are perfectly neutral and completely impact free. That’s the first step. The next is to go beyond neutral and to make something positive, restorative and regenerative.
When do you think you'll be able to achieve that?
Hopefully by 2050!