Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Abigail Hathway on the 'Hidden' Engineering Role: Building Services Engineer

Dr Abigail Hathway, Lecturer in Architectural Technologies, throws light on how important engineers are in bringing the buildings we inhabit to life and that more young people are needed to take up this vital role.

With buildings contributing over 40% of carbon dioxide emissions in this country it is essential we change the way we design and build. However, buildings are so much more than a shell and an energy meter. We spend on average 90% of our time in buildings; good light, good temperature and good ventilation can all contribute towards us having a good day. Get these wrong and our ability to think and learn can rapidly deteriorate, gets these badly wrong and we can get sick. To get these things right, to achieve the architect’s vision, to create a wonderful space and not screw up the planet in the process takes excellent engineers.
Yr4 AED trip

Unfortunately we don’t have enough talented young people wanting to enter this area of engineering (or knowing the route to take to do so), and particularly not females. It isn’t surprising when the role of the building services engineer is so unknown outside the profession. Do you think about how much engineering has gone into making you feel good in a building? It is after-all the engineering you can’t directly see and can merely feel.

The reason I applied for my Lectureship at Sheffield University was for the chance to deliver the degree programme in Architectural Engineering Design to engage more young people in this profession. This is one of a growing number of courses to provide the skills for graduates to engineer low impact buildings, and the only course in the country to be dual accredited by both the Institution of Civil Engineers and Mechanical Engineers. The degree programme spans the traditional disciplines of Structural Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Architecture in order to educate students with both hard engineering skills relevant to building performance alongside a social awareness and an understanding of Architectural design. This provides an understanding of the underlying physics of a building, enabling our graduates to help Architects achieve their vision with limited environmental impact. 

Do you think about how much engineering has gone into 
making you feel good in a building?

Students also learn about Architecture history and theory, studying alongside Architecture students. This is important because it means that when they graduate these students can communicate with Architects to understand their vision, and work alongside the architect to create a beautiful and well-functioning building. Maths and Physics is important for building design, but it isn’t the only component, the ability to communicate and work well in a broad team is also crucial.

Part of my role is running a one year Masters programme in Architectural Engineering Design. This is a conversion course allowing students from a variety of backgrounds to gain the skills in this area. Many of our students come from a Civil Engineering background who are keen to use their knowledge of maths and physics to create better buildings. Many of them tell me they wish they had known about this area when they were seventeen. We also have girls coming from outside of engineering, such as Architects looking to change career direction to a more technical field. We have had architects take our MSc who are now working out in industry carrying out complex energy modelling of buildings, then liaising with clients and architectures about achieving their visions for the building in a low impact way.

Dr Abigail Hathway
We run an undergraduate programme in Architectural Engineering Design too which spans all three departments of Civil and Structural, Mechanical Engineering and Architecture. Our graduates work in a variety of fields related to the engineering of buildings: mechanical engineering, sustainability consulting, structural engineering, project management and research. The passion the students show for their degree, and the final year students desire to help mentor younger students and make the course grow makes me very proud. It also shows it isn’t just me that finds this such an exciting and important area to work. The innovation they show in integrating the fabric and systems in a building to reduce the total impact is incredible and continually demonstrates to me why it is so important to develop new programmes crossing the traditional disciplines to educate young engineers in the skills needed for tomorrow. Now we just need to raise the awareness of this area of engineering to attract more young people into this profession.


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