Structural engineering is about design, use of material, construction, planning, inspection, monitoring, maintenance, research, rehabilitation and demolition of structures and structural systems. It also embodies the technical, economic, environmental, aesthetic and social aspects. Structural engineering is a creative profession that makes significant contributions to the community. Structural engineers deal with all kinds of structures: buildings, basements, bridges, tunnels, underground structures, stadiums, foundations, railway stations, marine structures and practically any types or forms of structures.
Structural engineering in Hong Kong are among the most challenging in the world. Due to the topography of the city, our designs often include tall and slender buildings, deep basements, long span bridges, underground structures and tunnels, and they are often in very difficult terrain. Wikipedia called Hong Kong the world's tallest urban agglomeration. There are over 1,500 buildings of height over 100m, over 80 buildings with height over 200m while many even over 300m tall. It is through the reliable work of the structural engineers who have tackled many difficult design conditions including severe typhoon attacks, thus providing a safe environment to work and live.
Education and path to be a Structural Engineer
Ir Dr Paul Lam Heung-fai of the City University of Hong Kong opined that the jobs of structural engineers are highly professional such that a very rigorous education system is needed in their cultivation. They should possess a strong background in mathematics and mechanics. Communication skill is also essential to ensure clear presentation in both written and oral forms in a multi-disciplinary construction project. As the situation of a construction site is ever-changing, structural engineers need to provide timely solutions to address daily design and construction matters. This requires not only experience but also strong and critical thinking. Ir Dr Lam further explained that upon graduation from the university, young engineers are encouraged to join the HKIE Scheme “A” Graduate Training to gain appropriate experience and to prepare for the HKIE Structural Examination, which consist of a Written Examination and an Interview. According to different career specialisation or career path, HKIE Members satisfying the respective registration requirements could become Registered Professional Engineers, Registered Structural Engineers, Authorised Persons and Registered Inspectors. Ir Dr Lam reflected that despite the challenge, the pressure and the hard work of a structural engineer, the responsibilities and prospects make it a very meaningful career.
Woman Structural Engineer
With the increasing interests of female students enrolling in engineering degree programmes in the universities, the number of female members in the HKIE Structural Discipline has grown significantly in the past 15 years, and now accounts for about 10% of the members within the discipline.
Ir Katherine So Ka-man has been working as a structural engineer in one of the most prominent consultancy companies for over 9 years. She has always thought that being a female structural engineer is chic and professional. Her professional experience started with carrying out design works in the consultant firm and regular inspections and coordination with contractors on construction sites.
Katherine said that in the beginning she experienced difficulties in handling technical issues and project management, however she never gave up and would attempt to find the way out with her accumulated knowledge and experience. She would also seek advices from her seniors to resolve problems. She believes that the growing number of women engineers will have a positive effect in “softening” the rather tough image of structural engineering, and also helping the smoother handling of public relations and liaison with different parties. Katherine now assumes a responsible position in a government department and encourages young lady engineers to be prepared to face challenges and build up self-confidence to pursue their dreams in this profession.
The HKIE Structural Division
Established in 1979/80, the Structural Division, not only was one of the six founding Divisions of the HKIE, but has also grown to become one of the largest Divisions with over 6,000 members.
The aim of the Structural Division is to promote the learned society role by disseminating our members with information on recent professional and technical activities as well as maintaining excellence in the structural engineering profession by promoting advancement in structural engineering and encouraging the exchange of professional knowledge and innovation.
Promoting Structural Excellence
The Structural Division grows with and addresses the changing needs of society. It promotes the advancement of structural engineering through organising various learned society activities such as the Structural Excellence Award, technical meetings, seminars and site visits.
Ir Tse Kam Leung, Chairman of the Structural Division, said that the Structural Excellence Award showcases the industry’s best structural engineering projects and research and application of structural engineering. “Innovation in Structural Engineering and Construction” is the theme for the 2019 annual seminar with the aims to promote innovation and new technologies for productivity, efficiency and enhanced project delivery in the construction industry.
The Division persistently strives to promote the image of structural engineering, especially among the young generation. The Structural Engineering Competition for Youth, a highlight event for STEM education aiming to cultivate secondary school students’ interest in the structural engineering profession through hands-on experimental learnng. Ir Tse added, “The theme of this year’s competition is "Paper Tower Crane” (「塔吊大作戰：紙舞穹蒼」) and we hope the competition will keep inspiring our future structural engineers.”
Serving the Community
Members of the Structural Division are always keen on providing service to the engineering community such as in various HKIE committees, government and statutory committees and advisory panels as well as educational and quasi government organisations.
Ir Edward Chan Sai-cheong, Immediate Past Chairman of the Structural Division, commented that the Division has an important role in the development of various Codes of Practice for structural design and construction in Hong Kong. Moreover, Handbooks to various Codes of Practice have been written to facilitate a better understanding of the Codes and to provide narrative worked examples. The latest being the handbook to Code of Practice for Steel Design led by Past Chairman Ir Professor Chan Siu Lai. Training schemes for young engineers are formulated to assist in guiding them with their training. Ir Edward Chan added, “We also participate in the assessment and qualifying of companies for the training scheme. The Division has also nominated senior experienced engineers as members of the expert panel to address various matters that the public may have concerns.”
Research and Development
Structural engineers make reference to Codes of Practice when they design and the design rules and guidelines in the Codes are mainly based on research, said Ir Professor Ben Young, Deputy Chairman of the Structural Division. Experimental, numerical and theoretical investigations are commonly used in research. The safety factors used in Codes of Practice are determined by a probabilistic approach. Reliability analysis is normally used for the determination of acceptable safety factors in design. In structural engineering, there are some hot topics of research, such as high strength steel with yield stress higher than 900 MPa, modular integrated construction (MiC) for high-rise buildings, advanced composite materials, additive manufacturing (3D printing) of metal alloys and other topics. It should be noted that at present these areas are either lack of or no design rules and guidelines. Therefore, research plays an essential role in the development of design rules and guidelines, only with which, Codes of Practice can be published for all structural engineers to follow.
Written by Ir Edward S C CHAN from the Structural Division of the HKIE