Structural Focus opened on April 26, 2001, after five months of serious planning. I made the decision at seven o’clock on a Friday night, halfway through my commute from West Los Angeles to Palos Verdes. I called my wife, Kate, and she simply said, “What took you so long?” Out of 50 clients or so, only two didn’t come with me; everybody else didn’t miss a beat!
What does Structural Design mean to you?
Two words I love when talking about Structural Design are elegance and authenticity. I like to design simple and efficient structures; I strive to find the most straightforward solution to accomplish a project’s goals. It drives me crazy when I see designs with chaotic framing; it’s almost like whoever designed the building didn’t step back and look at it to find the best solution, to establish the right system for what they were trying to accomplish. Sometimes a client has very specific desires about what they want the structure to be, and they depend on us (structural engineers) to help them get there. The best solution is the most efficient, safe, simple, and easy to build; it doesn’t cost much, but it’s beautiful if exposed… it does everything that it is supposed to do. A simple elegant structure could possibly mean less material and less structure, but it requires more creative thinking, more work for the structural engineer, thus resulting in a simpler structure.
A Favorite Project
3Labs Event Space is the perfect example of elegance and authenticity; the structure is beautiful, efficient and completely exposed. Nothing is hidden, everything you see is structural. It took the combination of many elements to make this project a reality. The owner was willing to try something new and spend the money to do it; he was very open-minded because he wanted something special. The contractor, Tectonics Construction, trusted us and we trusted them. The project’s architect-designer, Profeta/Royalty Architecture, was willing to try something new and allow the structure to be the architecture. And we had a great Project Manager, Structural Focus’ Wayne Chang, S.E., he is a talented engineer. The group was just the perfect combination for coming up with a wonderful project, a beautifully open, acoustic event space.
On the 3Labs project, there was a row of columns and there were tie rods that ran across the building which really impacted the feel of the building — so one of the challenges was to remove those elements to create a wide-open space.The existing building was not originally designed for its aesthetics but our modifications made it more aesthetically pleasing while successfully completing the owner’s objectives.
We are renovating a beloved historic post office building in Santa Monica and turning it into a high-tech film production company office. The project involves a lot of modifications to the structure while respecting its historical integrity. There is a lot of public anxiety about the work we are doing, but we are doing it correctly. It’s important to us that the owner is doing the right thing — that doesn’t always happen in our industry. At Structural Focus, we want to always do the right thing; I want us to continue to have that reputation.
We want to make an impact on the built environment. No question about it, we want to leave a positive mark. The 3Labs project was great from a creativity standpoint. The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills final product was wonderful; it was a pleasure to work with SPF:architects and MATT Construction. I would like to do more landmark projects like this, whether historic or ground up, The Wallis was both. I also enjoyed working with Levin & Associates Architects and MATT Construction on the Wilshire Boulevard Temple project, a landmark with a lot of cultural recognition. Looking at bettering our community is one of the reasons we started SAFEq Institute. In the event of a disaster, we want the community to recover as quickly as possible.
The Future of Structural Engineering
In a few years, an architect is probably going to have the technology to make it possible for them to design a “regular” steel frame building; he or she won’t even need a structural engineer to do it. But if they want to secure a historic landmark to resist earthquake loads, there is no button you can push, only a good structural engineer has the knowledge and skills to work on that kind of project. That goes for all complex buildings, whether they are new or existing. Structural Focus has an advantage because we already do a lot of work on complex existing and historic buildings. Client relations is also an area where structural engineers need to improve. We want engineers to be able to communicate with clients. It’s not just about running the numbers; it’s about dealing with the people. We preach to our staff that when we have a client, we want to keep that client forever; we want to become not only a consultant but their trusted advisers.
What would we be surprised to learn about you?
Everybody knows that I like road bikes and playing golf. My father taught me to play golf when I was seven so I guess it is surprising that I am not a better player after 50 years of practicing.