Peter Watkins FIStructE
Peter Watkins has been a Fellow of the Institution since 2018. Here he discusses his work and what Fellowship means to him.
What inspired you to become a structural engineer?
After finishing my ‘A’ levels I wanted to pursue a career in law. My father, who is a mechanical engineer, persuaded me to look into a civil engineering degree instead. I graduated in 1997. I’ve never looked back. Engineering is in my blood.
What are the greatest achievements in your career to date?
My greatest career achievement was becoming a Chartered Member of IStructE – the exam is really tough, and I was lucky enough to pass first time.
I have also recently become a Director at Bradbrook Consulting, a medium sized structural engineering practice, where my aim is to help develop the engineering team, mentoring many of them towards Chartered Membership.
I have been fortunate enough to work on some very high-profile and iconic buildings. I have a passion for designing tall buildings, having been involved with the design of around 20 tall buildings in London.
A particular highlight was leading the structural design of the Greenwich Peninsula Upper Riverside development – a project comprised of five towers up to 32 storeys. One of the towers is located directly above the London Underground’s Jubilee Line tunnels.
How would you define structural engineering?
If you’ve ever looked into a building site and seen a concrete or steel frame being constructed, it will gives you an idea what we do – we make buildings and bridges stand up!
I also particularly like this quote from Jean Nouvel, which sums up a lot of today’s engineering:
“a few decades ago the best engineer was someone who could create the most beautiful beam or structure; today it’s to do a structure you cannot see or understand how it’s done. It disappears and you can talk only about color, symbols, and light. It’s an aesthetic of miracle.”
The fact is that without engineers the world would be a completely different place. Engineering is everywhere and all around us and yet a lot of the time it is taken for granted.
Who should become a structural engineer?
To some degree I believe engineering is in your DNA. Being good at mathematics and physics is useful, but in my view what’s more valuable is common sense and good communication skills.
It’s important to be adaptable. I like the fact that I’m not stuck behind a desk all day and that no two days are the same.
It’s also important to be motivated, driven and passionate about what you do, I’m lucky in that engineering is very much a hobby to me: I like the fact that there is always something new to learn.
What does it mean to be a Fellow of the Institution?
Becoming a Fellow of the Institution, to be at the top of my profession, was very important to me. It has always been an aspiration of mine.
Fellowship is the highest grade of membership, which increases my profile within the industry – and my organisation’s too.
The role of a Fellow, in my view, is to promote the engineering profession, share knowledge and develop and inspire the next generation.
How do you interact with the Institution?
Regional Group activities are great for meeting other engineers, sharing experiences and knowledge. You never know what your next project is, so it’s important to build up a network of fellow engineers that you can call upon to discuss ideas. I’ve given a lecture on the efficient design of tall buildings to the Group and I’m an interviewer for the exam.
I’ve also attended many technical talks in the past at HQ, and have always found them to be very informative and interesting. Probably the most useful events are the IStructE exam preparation courses – these are an absolute necessity if you’re considering taking the exam.
The Structural Engineer is a great read, I will always have the latest copy on me whilst I’m on the train or early for a meeting. I’ve been pleased to be published there in the past.