Russell has been with Structural Focus since 2001; he has managed a broad range of projects from new design to renovation of landmark buildings. Over the course of his career, Russell has been very involved with the Structural Engineers Association of California, the ACE Mentoring Program, and EERI.
Without a doubt, my favorite part about working at Structural Focus is the people. We have a talented and dedicated staff who work hard for the greater good.
What does Structural Design mean to you?
The first thing that comes to mind is the American Society of Civil Engineers’ vision statement, “Building a better quality of life.” I truly believe that we are helping people.
Latest Project & Biggest Challenge
Construction was recently completed on the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre renovation, which is a historic outdoor amphitheatre built in a hillside ravine. Structural Focus worked with Levin & Associates and Pankow on the $20 million renovation. The existing building was modified and we added a new loading dock, terrace, concession area, and an office building. The project’s extensive work involved several phases along with the fast-approaching deadlines (the Ford Theatres reopened for the Spring 2016 season and the July 2017 Gala Opening), was very challenging. There were also unexpected surprises due to the project’s historic nature. But I am happy to say we worked hard and delivered a successful project.
The renovation of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple has been one of the greatest projects I’ve worked on during my career. Not every structural engineer is going to have the opportunity to work on a landmark domed building; it was a great experience. As the lead structural engineer, I loved working with Brenda Levin and her team from Levin & Associates, MATT Construction, and the project’s owner, the Wilshire Boulevard Temple.
During my career at Structural Focus, I have had many favorite projects. I loved working on Specialty Laboratories; that was my first big new design project. The biggest challenge with any new design project is to meet the architectural vision while designing to meet the owner’s objectives. We work with architects that tend to push the limits of what structures can do; it is challenging yet fulfilling when we can bring their designs to life. For the Specialty Labs project, Structural Focus worked with Lowe Enterprises, HLW International, and Tectonics Construction to create a three-story structural steel-braced frame building that houses all functions including administrative offices, warehousing, process labs, and more. The project also included a separate central plant structure. The project was designed to achieve an increased level of seismic performance.
I am also very passionate about one of the historic projects we are currently working on, the Harada House in Riverside. The Harada House is an interesting project with a lot of history; it was the first Japanese-American-owned house in the state of California. The Harada family bought the property in the name of their children, who were naturalized citizens, because “alien” citizens could not own property at that time. The Harada’s property rights were challenged in court in 1918; the California Supreme Court ruled in their favor.
On the second floor of the house, one of the kids wrote, “Evacuated on May 23, 1942 Sat. 7am.” That day, the family was taken to an internment camp by the federal government. The National Historic Landmark Harada House is in bad shape and the foundation is crumbling. Structural Focus is involved in its stabilization, shoring, and retrofit. We are working with the city of Riverside and Historic Resources Group to preserve this historic structure and ultimately hope to open the property as a museum. It’s very rewarding to work on a project of such historical significance, and it is important to remember that not all “landmarks” are necessarily physically imposing structures.
I don’t know if I have a dream project, but it is always a pleasure to work with a client who understands that improving the seismic performance of their building is an important part of the project. I guess I would also add that I want my projects to positively impact people’s lives.
The Future of Structural Engineering
We continue to head towards advanced analysis methods but even as engineering technology advances and competition becomes more global, nothing will ever trump personal client service. Structural Focus believes that excellent design results from an open, ongoing, creative, and clear dialogue. We believe that our job is not just about running the numbers, it’s about dealing with people. We want to become not only consultants but trusted advisors to all of our clients.
What would we be surprised to learn about you?
In June 2014, I went on a two-week white water rafting trip down 225 miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. It was an amazing experience full of big rapids, cold water, hot sun, and amazing views. A true once in a lifetime adventure.