Amaia Harries

It’s hard for me to pinpoint where my fascination with buildings began. I always wanted to be part of the design and creation of the structures that people depend on and interact with on a daily basis.

When I was 14 years old, I was involved in a sustainable stadium design competition with three other girls from my school, sponsored by the Saracens Rugby Club and HBG Construction (now BAM Construction). Our ambitious design, which included transparent PV panels in the roof and a moveable pitch, won 1st place.

I was hooked!
I’d loved the process of interpreting the client’s brief, coming up with ideas that would not only satisfy the purpose of the structure, but that would also push the boundaries of technology and look amazing. The thrill of presenting our ideas back to a real construction firm and having our efforts rewarded was incredible!
But despite the interaction that I’d had with a design consultancy, I still went through the rest of school not really understanding what an engineer did, and my ambition was to become an architect.

At sixth form, my physics teacher organised a trip to BRE (the Building Research Establishment) and their unique structural testing facilities. This was the first time I’d really been able to see the importance of an engineer in the design process of buildings, and the role they play in developing new technologies.

By this point I had already applied to study Architecture at various universities around the country, but fortunately the University of Sheffield allowed me to change my application to their Structural Engineering and Architecture course.  This multidisciplinary course really highlighted the difference between the two roles, and also allowed me to understand that my strength lay in engineering. I also became a STEM ambassador whilst I was studying, wanting to help other young people understand what engineering is.

During my time at university, I was conscious that the responsibilities of a modern engineer are becoming increasingly multi-dimensional; we are taught be able to apply and understand key engineering principles and, in addition, required to be aware of the implications that our decisions will have in a social and environmental context, as well as implementing knowledge to utilise and understand emerging technologies.
Despite enjoying engineering whilst at university, I was unsure about following a traditional route into a construction design firm. So I now work for BRE, the place that had helped inspired me into engineering in the first place.
I joined BRE on their Graduate Scheme, which gave me the unique opportunity to work in different areas within the business. BRE is completely unique, and is engaged in all areas that involve the built environment. The graduate scheme provided me the opportunity to explore and widen my understanding of the built environment, gain first-hand experience of a range of disciplines which affect buildings and their design, and develop my overall skill-set as an engineer.

Whilst working at BRE I have had the opportunity to investigate real fires, work within BREEAM (the team that develop and operate BRE’s environmental assessment method) and have also worked with innovators and their new ideas and design solutions.  After having finished the graduate scheme, I am now in a permanent role within the company, focussed mainly on structural testing on a range of scales; I have found that working in a research-based company has meant that each day is completely different, and that I am still constantly learning and adapting.