Strategic tax and estate planning specialist and THRINGS partner Mike Westbrook speaks to Claire Smith, Bath office director at integrated consulting engineers and advisers, BURO HAPPOLD

Mike Westbrook: Buro Happold is a big name in Bath. But for those not familiar with the business, how would you describe what it does?

Claire Smith: Buro Happold helps to create beautiful buildings and environments. And not just here in Bath but all over the world. We have teams in 29 locations across the globe who have been involved in notable projects such as the 2012 Olympic Stadium, the Danube Bridge, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in LA, the Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore and the Grand Egyptian Museum, Giza, Egypt.

MW: How did it all start?

CS: In 1976 a wonderful visionary, Ted Happold, was head of the School of Engineering at the University of Bath, but he wanted to continue to practise. So, he established Buro Happold with the idea of building a business which would attract some of the best engineers and create some of the best working environments.

MW: What is the process for creating a new building?

CS: Every project starts with the client – understanding what they want and how they envisage the end result. So, for example, with the Olympic Stadium, the client wanted it to be re-usable so that was in our minds throughout the whole project. And indeed, post 2012 Olympics, it is now a multi-use stadium for fans to enjoy sports, music and entertainment.

MW: At what point does Buro Happold get involved in a project?

CS: Very early on. The architect decides the layout and how a building will look, we can help with everything else to make the building work. I am a structural engineer, so I make the building stand up. Our environmental engineers work out how to make the building comfortable to be in, our ‘people-flow’ engineers analyse how people will move around the building to ensure the best possible experience – and so on… We work collaboratively with the entire team (which includes the external partners in the project) until we have created the perfect environment which meets the client’s needs.

MW: What issues are particularly important for Buro Happold now?

CS:Sustainability is a big priority for us; it definitely drives our business. We work hard to reduce the impact on the environment, not simply when the building is finished but over its entire lifespan. There has been a huge shift generally – our clients, investors and the government have all signed up to environmental targets, so we want to honour those.

MW: What do you love most about your role?

CS: Perhaps unsurprisingly for a structural engineer, the making and the doing excite me most. But I also love the people side of the job: Bath is like a training hub for many of our staff. It is wonderful to see young people start and develop their careers here and go on to work all over the world.

MW: What are you most proud of?

CS: There are many projects I am proud of but possibly the most exciting is the regeneration in the hearts of Bath and Bristol and especially North and South Quays in Bath. Buro Happold is part of creating a mixed-use commercial district for Bath, helping to ensure its success as an environmentally friendly, exciting and growing city for the future. 

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