Why do you think it is important to contribute to ASCE Collaborate and the civil engineering profession as a whole?
Contributing to ASCE Collaborate enables me to follow up on the experience and concerns of my civil engineering colleagues, and allows me to share my own. I enjoy the freedom of discussing topics related to my whole career. Always keeping in mind that civil engineering has been the backbone of civilization since the dawn of history.
What advice do you often share with someone early on in their civil engineering career?
My advice to all engineers who are early in their career is to keep in mind the engineering perspective at large: a tri-harmony between personal creative intuition, objective rigorous science, and societal conscientiousness. Look at engineering as the art of the possible, of transforming hopes and dreams into reality while dealing with the “devil in the details.” Civil engineers in particular need to look closely into constructability requirements, workmanship challenges, environmental restrictions, labor regulations, and all that is needed to create that long-lasting project that might continue to serve society long after they are gone.
Why did you become a civil engineer?
I grew up in the middle of what was the largest construction boom in the world: the modern construction of the Middle East. Civil engineering was the bold frontier reviving the glories of ancient civil engineering monuments like the pyramids of Egypt, the Baalbek Castle in Lebanon, and the Roman Aqueducts in Syria (which are still functional today). Kingdoms and empires, even civilizations came and went, but those civil engineering monuments are still standing, proudly shrugging off time.
What do you enjoy most about being a civil engineer?
Its down-to-earth presence in serving the public at large, yet outliving almost everything else. Since my first project, a stadium, nearly half a century ago, there has been so much change in the world: its leaders, ideals, fashion, consumer goods, nearly everything; but that stadium continues to host the masses, one generation after another. It gives me quiet and deep satisfaction to see that the projects I worked on are part of the landscape and infrastructure of so many cities around the world. Some projects were large enough to involve heads of state, and one that I know of was presented proudly on a postage stamp of a country.
What is the most challenging project you have ever completed?
My last project was my most challenging project. Since I wanted to retire with a “big bang,” I picked up Canada’s biggest project: Eglinton Crosstown Light Rapid Transit (ECLRT). It’s a design-build-finance-operate and maintain for 30 years project. ECLRT 19 km (12 miles) line, across Toronto, includes 25 stations (with 15 underground stations), two bridges, and a maintenance facility. In fact, it was the largest project in the history of Ontario. As the System-wide Lead Structural Engineer, I led seven structural engineering teams from five firms (one of them supplying three teams). It was quite a challenge to streamline teams from five firms, some of which were once in fierce competition with each other, into one coherent Structural Focus Group – the largest of its kind in Canada. With rivalry replaced by close team cooperation, the result was the development of a unified Structural Design Criteria, structural concept philosophy, and the extensive value engineering (including some firsts in that country) that helped us win the competition against a rival consortium. After we proceeded into final design, with system-wide reports completed, I retired at age 70, leaving it in the safe hands of my successors.