How have you been involved in The Shakespeare North Playhouse project?
My role on the project has been to manage and lead the development of the structural design of the building. I first became involved in 2016 when the architectural design was at concept stage and the wider project design team had just been appointed. I worked with the project design team (including Architects, M+E Engineers, Theatre Consultants, Acoustic and Fire Engineers) to take the concept design forward and develop it to a fully designed, co-ordinated and functioning building.
As a structural engineer my job is to design the structure (columns, walls, floors, roof etc) to support the loads which will be applied to it. Essentially, I’m responsible for making sure the building stands up.
Is there anything unique about your work for The Shakespeare North Playhouse?
Yes! There are several structural designs that are unusual, if not unique. Firstly, we have an independent timber structure that forms the 350 seat theatre which is being built inside our concrete auditorium box structure. It’s a structure within a structure. The timber theatre structure has been designed and built by historic timber frame reconstruction specialist McCurdy & Co. The concrete auditorium box has already been constructed, and now the timber frame is going to be built inside this concrete box.
Secondly, the roof structure over the auditorium consists of long span trusses that support three floors – the technical level, attic level and the roof. The technical level is hanging from the trusses above, to allow the octagon shape of the theatre ceiling to be achieved whilst providing a modern theatre mode too.
Finally, the concrete structure has been referred to as more a sculpture than a building due to the unusual and often challenging geometry which was driven by the striking architectural vision. For example, we had slabs with cantilever zig zag shaped edges, some very high walls at unusual angles to form the octagon shape of the theatre and lots of changes in floor levels to design.
What is your experience of working in an industry which may be seen as traditionally make dominated?
Structural engineering is still very male dominated. For example, in my team we have two female structural engineers and twenty four male structural engineers and technicians. This is similar to other companies I have worked for during my career. I’m so used to it I don’t really notice it anymore, and whilst it sometimes can feel lonely being the only female, it’s an exciting and interesting career, and I have always found it easy to get on with my male colleagues.
Working on the Shakespeare North Playhouse project has been a fantastic experience, particularly since we have had proportionally more females working on the project than any other job I’ve worked on, which has made for a great and different dynamic within the team.
What advice would you give to any young women who are considering a career in your area of work?
For any girl/woman considering a career in structural engineering I would say go for it – it is a very rewarding career and never dull – I’m always learning new things. Don’t be put off that the industry is male dominated, it is a very friendly community and you will enjoy being different!