Meet... Duncan Walters, Associate, London
Duncan talks architectural fiction, making furniture, and an alternative background before becoming a Structural Engineer.
So, what do you do?
I’m an Associate based in our London office. We do a lot of work internationally but most of my projects are in the UK. The variety of work we do keeps things interesting, from bespoke staircases to large housing developments, deep basements and everything between. I enjoy these varied challenges and there is never a dull moment.
How did you get into engineering?
My first degree was in automotive design and after that I worked as a steel fabricator and precision engineer for a few years. I made furniture, art installations, machine components – beautiful objects where quality and detail are everything. A conversion degree at UCL then brought me into the world of structural engineering. Objects but on a much larger scale!
How has this influenced your work?
I think that the apprenticeship in fabrication and machining gave me an invaluable practical understanding of the manufacturing processes and how to assemble objects, resolve tricky details with pragmatism in mind. It’s important to develop an intuition for what works, and to understand what something wants to be as a starting point. Check out the book ‘The Fountainhead’ – the protagonist Howard Roark would probably approve! [Howard Roark is a fictional architect who approaches his work with obsessive ideals.]
I am also acutely aware of how we communicate our designs, whether our drawings are clear for those who are making. Communication is a huge part of my job.
What are you working on?
I am leading a project at Lincoln’s Inn where we are engineering two large basements next to a historically significant Grade II* building. It was successful in gaining planning, meeting Camden Council’s stringent basement policy – no mean feat! It’s the professional home of many prominent lawyers so we are particularly keen to safeguard the existing historic fabric.
I’m also working on a couple of large city centre high rise sites – one in London and one in Leeds which are going to be landmark structures. There is definitely a rise in public awareness of how we create living space in our cities, particularly in London.
I’ve just finished reading JG Ballard’s 1975 novel High-Rise which is about the spiralling descent (into anarchy) of the tenants in a new tower building. It asks some interesting questions about how we interact with each other and our environment when living at such high density. This is obviously a hot topic of discussion for London.
Does your family understand what you do?
I certainly didn't know what civil engineering was until after my first degree and I think this isn’t uncommon – the industry was not always well publicised. I have a young family and my eldest is in primary school. I tell her that I make buildings stand up – a classic explanation, I suppose. I bring her CAD drawings to colour in, which she loves, but she prefers adding people to the scene – maybe she’ll be an architect when she grows up?