Sean Cullenward is a UCLA alum, he obtained both a B.S. and a M.S. in Civil Engineering from UCLA. He is a licensed Professional Engineer with experience in structural analysis, design, and construction administration for existing and new structures. Since he joined the Structural Focus team in 2016, Sean has worked on projects for Red Bull, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Mt. Saint Mary’s University, among others.
What does Structural Design mean to you?
A structural engineer brings the architect’s vision to life by designing innovative, earthquake-resilient buildings that integrate structural elements with the desired aesthetics. Great buildings have the potential to restore communities and help them flourish, sometimes those buildings even define our cities.
Before joining Structural Focus, I spent four months in Uganda, just outside the city of Kampala, with an organization called Engineering Ministries International (EMI). It’s always been my desire to use engineering to serve people and this was a unique opportunity to help communities in need.
In countries like Uganda, hiring a local engineer is very expensive and difficult, and the quality of design can be inconsistent. As a result, many projects are constructed by local builders without consulting an engineer and often leads to structurally vulnerable buildings. EMI partners with local organizations to provide engineering, architecture, and construction management services at an extremely discounted rate. They provide designs for a variety of projects including schools, hospitals, community centers, orphanages, and other critical facilities. While in EMI’s multi-disciplinary design team, I helped design a new training center for the African Children’s Choir, as well as a new block of classrooms for two new schools in rural Uganda. This experience taught me that the best way to serve is from a place of humility, collaboration, and communication. Putting service at the heart of engineering is something I continue to exercise and develop, whether in Los Angeles or Kampala.
One of my favorite Structural Focus projects is the renovation of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, this venue is a source of admiration and inspiration. As the largest dome structure in the city, gazing upwards and taking in the building is a powerful experience. The project did not only restore the Los Angeles landmark but it revitalized the community. I look forward to being part of a project this significant.
What’s your favorite part about working at Structural Focus?
After my time in Uganda, I was drawn to Structural Focus because of their emphasis on people and relationships – both internally and externally. Since joining the Structural Focus team, all of my first impressions have been confirmed. The work environment is extremely collaborative and friendly which allows the team to function better in order to provide great client service. Structural Focus’ holistic approach to engineering concentrates on developing long-term relationships with clients rather than simply completing the immediate task at hand.
From an engineering perspective, the firm’s portfolio holds an impressive variety of projects. It is clear that Structural Focus enjoys working on technically challenging projects. The team takes pride in the end product as much as the process followed to achieve it. I’m happy to be part of a firm that truly stands out through a genuine passion for innovative design and great client service.
The Future of Structural Engineering
As our cities increase in density, I believe AEC projects will continue to shift to the retrofit of existing buildings rather than the construction of new structures. The retrofit of existing structures requires engineering finesse and elegance to balance the original character of the building with the structural strengthening it requires. These projects almost never have a “one-size-fits-all” solution, and as a result, structural engineering will continue to transform into performance-based design rather than code-compliance design. This type of project also requires more communication between the client and the structural engineer making structural engineering much more collaborative.
What advice would you give young structural engineers?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Engineering is a life-long learning process, you will encounter challenges in every project. School can often be a competitive place to learn, however, the working world is much more collaborative as you get to learn from your peers. Working for a firm with a wide variety of projects and a collaborative team will allow you to continue learning for the rest of your career.
What would we be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a regular backpacker and although I thoroughly enjoy the city, I tend to itch to get up to the mountains as much as I can. Some of my favorite memories come from sipping my morning coffee with close friends while gazing across an alpine lake miles away from any roads. There is something about the wilderness that lets you recalibrate and rest, even after hiking for miles.