wallis-3A few of Sam’s high-profile projects include the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts, Hotel Erwin, Warner Bros. Stage 23, the DreamWorks Animation Lakeside Building Annex in Glendale and the new ROW DTLA Building 2. Sam is responsible for the organization of the Structural Focus Earthquake Response Program and assisted DreamWorks Animation and the City of Glendale in developing Southern California’s first post-earthquake Building Occupancy Resumption Program (BORP).

What does Structural Design mean to you?

Structural Design means ensuring that not only the built environment is safe and efficient, but also that the structural solution is at least compatible with, and at best fully integral with, the architecture.

Favorite Project

ROW DTLA, the former Alameda Square complex, is my favorite project to date. We designed the seismic retrofit and rehabilitation for Building 2, a very large, 100-year-old building in Downtown Los Angeles. We have also designed a set of subterranean tunnels connecting two buildings. It is inspiring to see old, dilapidated structures rescued and restored, and new life and opportunity brought to a neglected part of the city. Of all my projects, Alameda has taught me the most about project management, and about working as a successful team with the owner, Atlas Capital Group, architects Rios Clementi Hale Studios, House & Robertson and William F. Burch, and Del Amo Construction as the General Contractor.

1_10The structural design was a major driver on this project, as the concrete shear wall core retrofit scheme was integral with new vertical transportation and mechanical chases. With the contractor, we helped the owner understand comparative costs and schedule impacts of various systems. Likewise, we worked closely with the architect to highlight and complement the unique industrial character of the buildings. Communication and responsiveness were our top priorities, and that effort was reflected in a smooth construction process, despite every surprise this amazing building has thrown at us — from concealed floor ovens to multi-story spiral chutes, hidden underground passageways and beautifully carved wooden handrails — we have managed to stay the course. It was very exciting to watch Alameda Square be transformed into an incredible new place.

Biggest Challenge

roof deckMy biggest challenge so far was my first large project at Structural Focus. We had an existing five-story 40 year-old hotel on the beach where the owner wanted to add a sixth story and a rooftop deck — all while keeping the hotel operational. Somehow we did it: kept the hotel open the entire time, and we have since even added rooftop restrooms, bars, and an expanded deck area. Hotel Erwin is now one of the most popular hotels in Venice Beach.

Dream Project

I don’t know that I hold an idea of a “perfect” project — I’ve had many excellent experiences on large and small projects. I think my hope for every project is that the whole team pulls together and delivers a great building on time and on budget.

The Future of Structural Engineering

Even though our analysis capability will continue accelerating, allowing some designs to be automated while others become more complex and intricate, I think it will always be essential for structural engineers to fundamentally understand how structures behave and to have a gut feeling for design. This is critical in the early stages of design and through budgeting and construction. I do think structural engineering will become much more client-centered, truly a consulting profession where we work very closely with architects and owners to help them manage projects as well as provide a sound structural design.

What advice would you give young engineers?

You have to distinguish yourself as an engineer; you do that by knowing how to communicate. Technical skills are great, but everyone who gets through school has those. For young engineers to set themselves apart, they must learn to write well, speak confidently, and most importantly, listen. These elements will make a lasting impression on everyone you work with.

Why Structural Focus?

I love working at Structural Focus because it is the perfect blend of independence and freedom with guidance and support. My career has evolved in so many interesting ways and has become more satisfying than I ever thought possible.

What would we be surprised to learn about you?

From a very young age, I wanted to be an architect. Straight out of high school I went to architecture school at Tulane, but I quickly realized I needed something different. My passion for architecture and my love of math and science led me to Structural Engineering.