Building Foundations with Rob Nield

Rob Nield2

We chat to Rob Nield, one of our Associate Directors, about his ambitions to develop our Birmingham office and how he as an engineer can promote the use of low carbon materials and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Why did you choose a career in engineering?

Growing up on the coast driving down the sea front past Blackpool Tower, the tallest tower in the British empire in its day, I couldn't help think how was it built, how did they know it would stand up, why did it look like it did? Watching the freeform steel skeleton of the tallest, fastest rollercoaster in the world at the time, the 'Big One' grow day by day added to the intrigue of these huge manmade structures. Add to that a love of design and a desire to have a positive and lasting effect on society led me down the route of structural engineering.

Throughout my career I’ve been lucky enough to work on some of the tallest, longest, deepest structures around and I am still amazed by the variety and reward it brings. As well as designing ever more interesting structures I also try to spend time inspiring the next generation of engineers through teaching and workshops.

Working in engineering, what can you do to contribute to a greener and more sustainable urban future?

Structural engineers are now in the spotlight when it comes to carbon emissions with embodied carbon in the structure up to 25% of the total life cycle carbon of a building. We have the knowledge and tools to minimise this by repurposing existing buildings, promoting low carbon materials such as timber and stone, designing efficiently and educating and collaborating. We need to take our responsibility seriously, lead by example and question the status quo in order to drive innovation and change. 

What are your ambitions for the future?

I'd like to develop our Birmingham office to be a key player in the local design community and bring our spirit of intelligent and adventurous design to the Midlands and beyond. We have fostered a creative and supportive environment for our people to thrive in our home in the Jewellery Quarter and we want to attract the most talented, inquisitive and passionate engineers to move us into the next phase.

How has the pandemic affected your outlook?   

Last year was difficult for obvious reasons, but I can't help but be inspired by the great support we have had from our clients and collaborators and the dedication of the staff in Webb Yates to get through it. We are lucky to have built up a great portfolio of national and international design led projects and having already strengthened the team with some likeminded designers we couldn’t be in a better position going into this year.

Where is your favourite place to be?

Put me on top of a mountain with my snowboard at the start of a fresh powder run … the only place to truly get away from it all.

What is your favourite book?

I'm currently reading 'Formgiving' - the third book in Danish Architect Bjarke Ingel's trilogy. I love the future thinking and the fact he is already imagining what design looks like for our sustainable existence on the moon and mars. One thing structural engineers say is we can't change gravity - with less than 0.4g on mars and no wind we could have some real fun with the structures there!