Roma Agrawal shares her thoughts on Sustainability

What is your opinion on climate change and sustainable development?

Scientists and Engineers have been talking about climate change for a while now, so it’s brilliant to see this becoming a very mainstream conversation. It’s also important that the urgency of this issue is being recognised. From my perspective as a structural engineer, we need to be designing the most efficient and economical structures we can. This means using the minimal amount of material needed, and also the right material in the first place. I am fascinated by the research into using more timber to build larger and larger structures, and am curious to see what materials we will be using more of in the decades to come.


As a woman in an industry predominantly male-oriented, what are some of the lessons you have learned to being successful?

The impact of being in a minority on me was that my confidence was affected. I would attend meetings with loads of men who are more experienced than me and initially, always defer to them and assume they know more than me. However over time, I realised that I too can make strong contributions to the discussion and in fact offer up new and different perspectives. I’ve learnt over time to nurture my confidence by doing my research and preparation, and learn how to communicate complex technical principles in an accessible way. I realised that to be a successful engineer, you have to be able to relate well to people.


How is the industry changing in terms of sustainability?

One of the trends that has re-emerged is around off-site manufacture. Rather than building everything on site, which takes time and creates more disruption to local communities, engineers are looking how modern methods of construction (including robotics in factories for example) can improve efficiency. This has been looked at in the past but I think we are seeing a strong resurgence and I hope this will be realised in practice on a large scale, where appropriate and to a high quality standard.


Do you incorporate sustainable aspects in your designs?

I believe one of the best ways that structural engineers can be sustainable in design is to work very closely with the clients, architects and building services engineers. If we all work as a team from early on in a project, we can find outcomes that are light, use minimal material, are structurally efficient, and require less heating and cooling. If the team as a whole has a vision of achieving a sustainable product in the end, then it’s easier to achieve an excellent design in terms of sustainability.


Are initiatives in regards to sustainability, reducing carbon footprint and increasing energy efficiency worth investing in when designing buildings and infrastructure?

Absolutely! Buildings and infrastructure create a large amount of carbon both in construction and maintenance. Investment in their sustainability can have a huge impact, particularly in the long-term.

See Roma at Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, 4 – 9 February 2020.

Roma Agrawal: BUILT

Friday 07 February, 12:00 – 13:00,

Language: English with simultaneous Arabic translation

In Built, award-winning engineer Roma Agrawal reveals the extraordinary secret lives of structures through the lens of an engineer.

The buildings surrounding us stand strong against – or even with – nature, but how do they work? The core job of a structural engineer is to understand and anticipate the forces that constantly attack and test their designs, from gravity to gales, fire and explosions. Hear about these challenges and the science – from our ancestors’ methods to today’s cutting-edge techniques – employed to resist them and keep our cities safe.

Roma Agrawal: BUILT