Your University magazine 2022-23

Page 34


HUEN-POH LAI BEng Civil and Structural Engineering 1978 CEO Surbana Jurong Architecture, Surbana Jurong Consultants Pte Ltd Despite hailing from an island famed for its stunning city landscapes littered with skyscrapers, Huen-Poh Lai is regarded as one of the University of Sheffield’s most distinguished engineers in Singapore. In a career that has spanned four decades, he has played a key role in establishing the area as one of the world’s leading sites for design, architecture and engineering.

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I wanted to get away as far from London as possible and the charm of Sheffield appealed to me. I had some friends, scholars with the Singapore Air Force, who were studying engineering at the University; there was some comfort in the idea that if the Singaporean government sent its best to Sheffield, it couldn’t be a bad bet for me. When I came to Sheffield it was my first trip abroad, so it took a while to get used to. I had a mechanical engineering tutor who was Scottish, and it was difficult for me to understand his accent but overall, I enjoyed meeting people, exploring the place and the course. Absolutely everything I’m doing now came from things that I learnt in Sheffield. We learnt about mechanical and electrical engineering, but we also learnt about the essence of structural engineering and public health. There was a scheme where we were visited by practising engineers who showed us their work, which gave us real-life exposure to things we had learnt about. I stayed in the UK for three years after my degree so I could become registered with the Institute of Civil Engineers. I worked for Balfour and I still remember going crawling down into Bentley Colliery

in Doncaster to help to investigate subsidence caused by coal mining. Learning how to document these risks and the impact they have was very valuable. In Singapore, we design to the Euro code, formerly the British code, so in terms of the approach to aspects like design and risk considerations, there’s not much difference. But here in Singapore, the government is quite involved in ensuring designs are fit for purpose and they go through all the designs too. They also set out the planning guidelines and control what you build but it’s people like us – the creative ones – who provide design solutions. We serve clients and developers who are driven by efficiency, and our job is to maximise the potential revenue from a piece of land. The main thing which has impacted the field and our lives is digitisation; not so much in the value of the work but the speed of it. We couldn’t do it without the fast machines we have now and the ability to see things ahead of time by using things like threedimensional virtual models. I remember in Sheffield we were still using computer punch cards; now we have machines that can do almost anything. I remember the Arts Tower in Sheffield so well – some of my best friends worked on the top floor and used to take the paternoster lift. It’s a lovely building to sit on the most exposed part of a hill. I’ve experienced those winds and they really can blow you over! I am thankful and owe much of my strong foundational knowledge to my alma mater and to all the friends and lecturers I hold dear to my heart. They have all featured in so many facets of my life.