Dave Kelly is the founding director of Inertia Engineering, a Brisbane-based firm specialising in civil, structural and environmental engineering design. With 20 years experience and a friendly attitude, Dave has formed lasting relationships within the industry that have seen him work on housing projects of varying scales.
Dave talks about his passion for housing design, and the joy of working with home owners to push the boundaries of engineering.
Why did you become an engineer? What do you love about the work?
At school, my strength was always working with numbers. I thought I was going to be an architect, but after some work experience with a firm, I decided it wouldn’t be the right fit, and so went down the road of engineering. After studying civil engineering, I quickly found my passion working on residential projects, which is the field I’ve specialised in ever since.
I really enjoy problem solving, and the personal aspect too. I love going out to site and meeting the home owners and finding out why they want to make a change. It’s really great hearing about what someone’s dream is, how they’re going to get there, and how we’re going to help them. That’s something that really drives me – finding out why it’s happening for somebody else, which also gives me a why, because I know I’m trying to help them get to where they want to be.
What’s your relationship like with architects? Do you enjoy working together?
Definitely. While there’s always been a stigma about us not getting along, it’s all about building strong relationships that can bring out the best result for the owners. I’m lucky to have formed a lot of friendships over the years with great architects – again it comes back to the personal aspect of engineering that I love.
Working with a lot of residential architects, they really want an engineer who has experience overseeing projects, and who’s interested in their designs and ideas. We try to work really closely with architects from the start of a project to make sure the end product is as close to what they’re envisaging as possible.
I think architects really appreciate that we deliver projects to them on time. A lot of big companies don’t do housing because they don’t think it’s profitable, but it’s the part of our business that’s been operating for the longest. Our processes are streamlined, so it can make an architect’s job less stressful.
What is your top tip for architects in terms of engineering? What is the most common mistake architects/designers make with houses which you have fix as an engineering solution?
Our top tip would be to involve the engineer earlier in projects, especially for more difficult and intricate work. Collaboration between the architect/designer and engineer during the early stages will help achieve more efficient, and therefore, cost-effective, structures, whilst staying true to the design. This also leaves a larger budget for the finishes and architectural features.
A common mistake we see relates to renovations. Designs don’t always consider the existing structure of a building, and how it integrates with the final product, as well as they could. We don’t have a direct fix for this, as it comes under the architect or designer’s role, however, this is something the industry will increasingly need to consider.
What is a building project you are proud of/ or favourite project – and why?
One of my most challenging projects has been a recent renovation at Beeston St, Newstead. The builder has been on-site for over a year now.
There were a number of difficulties associated with the project:
- extreme sloping site with poor access
- up to 5.5m deep excavation into rock underneath the existing high-set house
- neighbours house and pool was 7m above our excavation level and only 3m horizontally from the boundary
- build 2 levels (including 4m high entry) below the existing house whilst maintaining its stability 7m above the excavation
Retaining walls of this magnitude can be very costly, so it was important to meet often during the design phase of the building, to ensure the most cost-effective approach.
The communication lines between architect, structural engineer, geotechnical engineer, builder and owner had to be very strong, due to all the difficulties associated with the design.
What are some of the trends you’re seeing come through in the residential market?
Less walls, and more glass. People are really changing the way they live, breaking down the barriers between indoor and outdoor spaces. Technology is really helping us make things possible that weren’t ten years ago. Engineering is becoming harder and harder, as housing design becomes more complicated. I’m also seeing an increase in design collaboration between architects, owners and engineers. This can really help push the boundaries of the design from early on in the process.
How do you make sure you don’t over engineer? How do you meet the increasing complexity of designs with simplicity?
From a construction and engineering point of view, you want to put money into the areas that are most important to the clients. When I receive a design from an architect, I’ll go through and highlight areas that can be changed slightly, but will have a large saving. We work really hard to make sure the best options are explored early on, so the architecture can benefit.
You run an office of over 30 staff – how do you manage to keep everyone happy?
I don’t want to be an old unapproachable man locked away in an office, which is why I sit amongst everyone, and have a chat to anyone who will listen! That’s the way we love working at Inertia, and it’s the best way to collaborate on projects, which is what we’re after. Collaboration only brings out the best solutions. We want to be a workplace that excites people, and makes other people want to work for you. There’s a great culture in our office, we’re always getting together for social events. Sometimes its lawn bowls, sometimes bubble soccer – we try to mix it up a bit and find interesting things to do as a team.