"I am doing something worthwhile for the planet" - #IamCIBSE

I am a Senior Building Services Engineer

I am a Ken Dale Travel Bursary Winner

I am doing something worthwhile for the planet

Antoni Joan Sapina Grau is a Senior Building Services Engineer at WSP. He was awarded the Ken Dale Travel Bursary to spend a month researching Resilience and adaptive capacity for upcoming climate challenges’ in China, Hong Kong, Australia and the United States. We asked him about how he found the experience and his research findings…

Receiving the Ken Dale award
What first attracted you to apply for the Ken Dale Travel Bursary?
The opportunity to learn things that are not written in textbooks.  The Ken Dale Travel Bursary offers the chance to discover, research and learn about our Industry in a wider range. On the other hand, I saw an opportunity to encourage all designers, engineers, architects and clients to focus on climate change by sharing knowledge collected around the world from the experts.

Why did you choose your particular research topic and the countries that you travelled to?
I was inspired by past year’s winner’s observations of how buildings and cities are designed for current conditions, not for the conditions that they will be in, in the future due to climate change. Even buildings that currently perform very well will become inefficient in the next half century unless their active and passive energy measures are improved and adaptable for optimum energy efficiency and resilience in future conditions, including extreme weather events.
In one month, I visited Shanghai and Hong Kong in China, Sydney in Australia and Boston and New York in the USA. I chose these locations because they are already experiencing extreme weather due to climate change with the data to prove and help forecast what will happen in the future. Consequently, all engineers in each of these cities have a high level of awareness and knowledge of the issues and best practices, as do local industry experts, building authorities and general populations.

What was the highlight of your trip?
The opportunity to share my research and discuss this topic with wider disciplines.  When people heard about the data I was collecting, I was asked to prepare and present seminars, for all type of engineers, about the cities I visited previously. For example, in New York I did a presentation about climate change resilience happening in China, in China I talked about climate change effects in Australia, in Australia I shared about climate change in Hong Kong. I was able to act as a knowledge broker and link experts around the world so that they could share their information with each other.
I think this was one of the highlights, being able to present in front of many engineers around the world and create a network of engineers who want to improve present building services designs for the future.
Zero Carbon Building in Hong Kong
What was the most interesting finding that came out of your research?
Quite a lot! Perhaps not surprisingly every country has a different level of concern and awareness about the need to adapt to climate change; but what did strike me was that this issue isn’t all about design and buildings, it’s about people. I didn’t set out to interview people in the street, but in Hong Kong, I talked to passers-by to ask them how they had dealt with a recent typhoon - the worst typhoon to hit the city in 100 years. They said they get a lot of extreme events in Hong Kong and they’re used to it. Then I noticed that there were sand bags in some shops to be prepared against the flooding. The local population already demonstrates resilience by preparing for events they know are going to happen.
This led to my understanding that people have to experience extreme weather events before they can start to mitigate against them. Six years ago, New York was hit by Hurricane Sandy, a super storm that caused huge devastation. Something like this had never happened before. The city wasn’t ready, Manhattan was blacked out, businesses were closed and fortunes lost. Since then they have introduced changes for resilience against a future occurrence.
I also learned about how different countries deal with issues specific to them. For example in Australia, the frequent bush fires have led to thinking about the systems you need to prevent smoke from entering a building. By contrast, in London the priority would be to mitigate against a fire inside a building and getting the smoke out.
There were also things I had never thought about when considering a building’s resilience. For example, some buildings are ear-marked as refuges in emergency plans for extreme climate events or terrorist attacks. These need special provisions to ensure they have adequate systems for fresh air, water, security, etc for the number of people they might have to accommodate.

How has the experience been of benefit to you and your career?
A seminar in New York
The whole experience was a great learning curve, from arranging travel and finding out who I should be meeting, to discovering and adapting to the different work cultures around the world.
As an engineer, I greatly enjoyed expanding my horizons and shifting my focus beyond the calculations and spreadsheets to appreciate how our work relates to the real world and the people in it. And to feel I’m doing something worthwhile for the planet.
Most importantly, the experience has made me think, and from the feedback I’ve had, I’ve made other people think. That will help us to inform our clients in order to make them aware of what may be around the corner in terms of rain, floods, heatwaves, bush fires or pollution, and of the great benefits of building adaptable and resilient buildings. 

What advice would you give to someone considering to apply for the bursary?
Apply for it! Be confident in your ideas and share it with the rest of the world. Move forward spread all your findings everywhere so the effect will be bigger and more positive for the industry. It’s an amazing opportunity to develop yourself and to collaborate in our industry in many ways. There’s still lots of technical advice and findings that are worth spreading, not only to engineers, but clients, developers, families, young generation of engineers etc.
As engineers, we have a huge responsibility for the current and future built environment. It’s important to be fully aware of the current situation in order to be able to redefine the priorities and targets for addressing global warming and energy efficiency. The Ken Dale Travel Bursary gives the opportunity to do that. Don’t miss it!



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