Interview | Kevin Coughlan, DBFL Consulting Engineers
Kevin Coughlan sits at his desk in the DBFL Consulting Engineers office in Dublin, deep in thought.
He has been talking about what initially inspired him to become an engineer. As a structural engineer, he expresses his enthusiasm on the topic, discussing his favourite structures that paint the skylines in various cities around the world. He speaks with purpose about how innovation is threaded and intertwined into the Graduate Programme at DBFL Consulting Engineers, which has allowed him to become directly involved in designing support systems for a number of notable landmarks in Dublin. We find out more about his character and history:
What kind of education is needed for your job?
Personally, I have a BEng. in Structural Engineering from DIT, Bolton St. I went on to complete a MSc. in Durability of Structures from Queen’s University, Belfast. I joined DFBL Consulting Engineers in 2013 as soon as I graduated, and immediately found myself designing the structural elements in a wide range of projects, from big industrial bio plants to one-off houses. Before I knew it, I was contributing to the design team meetings of my projects, which was incredibly rewarding.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
It had to have been after a holiday in New York when I was a child. The mega skyline gave me a ‘grá’ for structures; I’ve had a keen interest in how buildings work since.
What are your daily duties?
I work on the design of several small to large residential developments as well as some large commercial projects. I carry out site inspections in accordance with BC(A)R.
I’m also heavily involved in the remediation of homes affected by pyrite- a mineral that is present in many sedimentary rocks. Subject to certain conditions, it is extremely problematic in construction, as it can expand and exert large forces onto a structure, leading to significant cracking over time. It’s challenging, but extremely fascinating!
What do you like most about being a Structural Engineer?
I heard a good description of engineering before – “Engineering: the art of putting science into practice”. To be honest, this is what I value most about my job.
“The mega skyline gave me a ‘grá’ for structures; I’ve had a keen interest in how
buildings work since.”
What are the main challenges of being a Structural Engineer?
The industry is booming again. Therefore, time management is the biggest challenge I’ve been experiencing as of late.
What kind of person makes a good Structural Engineer?
A good structural engineer is someone that is a good problem solver and that can think outside the box, but also must be articulate and concise in order to explain this to others.
What are some of the projects you’ve worked on? What is your favourite project that you have worked on?
The most notable ones would be Red Arches in Baldoyle, The Hermitage in Balgriffin, Flyefit Gyms, Kilmainham Courthouse and Greystones Marina.
I enjoyed working on Kilmainham Courthouse and the Flyefit Gyms on Harrington Street and Georges Street as these buildings were already steeped in history. I liked the idea of conserving the original features of the buildings, but also modernising them and giving them a new lease of life. In fact, during the Flyefit Gym on Georges Street job, the old Dublin walls were uncovered as well as several skeletal remains. Also, in the Kilmainham courthouse, newspapers from the early 1900s were discovered. And given the buildings history, it’s fascinating to think who they could have belonged to.
“I liked the idea of conserving the original features of the buildings, but also
modernising them and giving them a new lease of life”
How is sustainability integrated into your job as an engineer?
An engineer must consider the ‘whole life’ cost of a project and not just the upfront costs that some developers are solely interested in. Even at early design stages, when choosing a structural form, an engineer will consider the design life and the cost of demolition and disposal. Factors such as whether or not the material be reused or recycled also plays an important role in this stage of the design process.
What do you think is going to become the biggest challenge for engineers in the future?
Ancient engineers did not even have a calculator, but the Colosseum is still standing. The advance in computers has enabled engineers to make more advanced structures… taller… lighter. But its important that we don’t get caught in a total reliance on computers.
Also, from an environmental point of view, we should always be looking to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Remember, for every 1ton of cement produced, 1 ton of CO2 is emitted. This is not sustainable, and we have already made huge improvements in this area with cement replacements… but much more is needed.
What characteristics does your company look for when hiring young engineers?
Someone that works well in a team and someone that is willing to learn. Luckily, my fellow employees are very approachable and happy to answer any questions.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to go into engineering?
Don’t assume that you know everything, every day is a school day in engineering!