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Article Date: 21st January 2013

Breathing Buildings - Bridging the Divide: From Architect to Engineer

Natural Ventilation - Passive Ventilation - Ventilation Systems - Building Ventilation

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Throughout my first year with Breathing Buildings my business card said 'Consulting Engineer', but with a first degree in Architecture, I felt like maybe I should go about getting qualified as an engineer. With an architecture background, Civil Engineering was the route open to me and so I embarked on a 12 month MSc programme at Southampton University in September 2012.

Compressing a Civil Engineering degree into 12 months meant a whistle-stop tour of fluid dynamics, geotechnics, structures, construction management, earthquake engineering, and energy resources etc. - a very varied spectrum, but one that may not appear to be directly applicable now that I'm back at BB. My final research project, however, concentrated on the use of Building Energy Performance Software to predict the viability of zero carbon commercial buildings. Software packages such as IES-VE are something Breathing Buildings is increasingly asked to use by clients assessing the energy performance of their buildings when using our ventilation strategies, so my experience comes in handy on a regular basis.

However, there are also more subtle ways in which my qualification might start to become useful. The fluid mechanics I studied in my degree were more about channel and pipe flow than about natural ventilation air flows in buildings, but the principals of fluid mechanics are still the basis behind some of the modelling work we do at Breathing Buildings and we use some of the same basic equations on a day-to-day basis. Also, occasionally the equipment we specify to buildings needs to have a close relationship with the structure of a building. Notably for me on a recent project our kit was impacting on the location of stiffener plates for an I-beam - a bit of detailed structural design I never expected to be reappearing in my life so soon.

I certainly still value my architectural education, which definitely proves valuable when working in the world of building construction, and I will still try to defend architects in the engineers vs. architects debate. But for me, being an engineer is definitely a better fit, and in spite of engineer being an unprotected title, I certainly feel more worthy of it now and qualified to use my new Mecanno set, which is 'For young engineers aged 9 and over'.

Fiona Dickinson
Consulting Engineer

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