Ramon Fenech immediately struck me as a well-mannered, soft-spoken gentleman. Somewhat reserved, at least that is how he describes himself, though I must say, he opened up with utmost ease and was very outgoing when I asked him if he accepted to be interviewed.
Ramon is Senior Partner, Structural Engineer at QP. My first obvious query was, what is precisely the work of a structural engineer? ‘The role of the structural engineer is primarily to design and supervise the construction of buildings, ensuring that they are strong enough to support the loads (like people and equipment) and stable against elements such as wind whilst remaining cost-efficient. Structural engineers make sure buildings and infrastructure are safe to use. I cannot emphasise enough the extent of responsibility involved. Structural engineers work as part of a team alongside architects, builders and other engineers to ensure that the buildings being designed and constructed work well in practice, fulfilling their intended use.
How does that compare with the work of an architect? ‘To put it very basically, architects concern themselves with the layout, and stylistic design of buildings whilst structural engineers make sure that an architect’s design is safe and structurally secure.’
So am I correct to state that durability and strength of materials are prime considerations for a structural engineer? ‘Undoubtedly, the study of the strength of materials is very important for a structural engineer. He must understand and predict the behaviour of materials for the successful design and execution of projects, especially when these materials are used in complex designs and loading situations. Naturally, this can only follow a detailed study and sometimes assessments of alternatives and experiments. The structural engineer must ensure the safety of users at all times yet remain cost-conscious to ensure that the client gets the best value for money, but never at the cost of safety.’
Maintenance must be an essential follow-up of particular projects. Would you, as a structural engineer, also be involved in this procedure? ‘Yes, that forms an essential part of the durability of materials. Together with the client, the structural engineer must ensure that there is a maintenance plan such that the durability of the materials used for construction is not impaired over time. If properly constructed and maintained, a building should last 50 years, whilst other infrastructural projects should last even longer.’
Looking back at Ramon’s professional journey: After completing his University degree in 2000, Ramon joined an established local firm of Architects, Civil and Structural Engineers. Back in 2012, this practice merged with QP, which at the time, offered most of the professional services in the construction industry except for architecture and structural engineering. Following this merger, QP became effectively a one-stop-shop offering practically all the professional services within the construction industry.
Ramon gave me a knowing smile. ‘Therefore, I have actually never changed my job but saw myself developing from a junior graduate to managing one of the leading structural engineering practices in Malta.’
I assume you work as a team of structural engineers on a project. How does this work? Would you parcel out certain aspects to team members and harmonise results? What would be the procedure? Ramon spoke slowly it emphatically. ‘I consider myself very lucky and proud to be surrounded by an excellent team of engineers and draftspersons at QP, all having expertise in different sectors. We use and share many skills to solve problems – from basic maths to cutting-edge technology and software. Typically, we have more than one team member working on a project, depending on its scale and complexity. I give a lot of importance to teamwork and collaboration since I am a firm believer that, particularly for the scale of projects we work on, the best product to the end-user cannot be the result of an individual but the result of several persons working collaboratively in an integrated design approach.’
Could you share some examples of work you have worked on for QP? ‘Our projects vary in size and complexity, starting from small residential buildings to large public buildings, including hotels, industrial facilities, airports and infrastructural projects. The gamut is vast, and every project requires a different approach, preparation, study and vision. Each is a separate story, but they are all part of a shared intensive drive to offer the best of our best.
Three current projects of particular interest are the Sustainable Living Complex at the University of Malta, Apron 10 at Malta International Airport and Corinthia’s Oasis Project in Golden Sands. I am particularly satisfied that we have a good number of repeat clients, which I consider an important recognition.’
Since he described himself as a reserved person, I was sure he would not relish speaking of his family. I was wrong; completely wrong! Ramon’s face lit up, and his eyes said it all. ‘I am very fortunate to be supported by a wonderful family, particularly my wife, Clara, and son, Andrea. This support is important for my overall well-being and definitely manifests itself in an ability to give my utmost at work.’
My experience is that a balanced life is the best approach to succeed in one’s dreams and achievements. Relaxation is, therefore, an essential part of one’s work. And Ramon? How do you relax after work? ‘I have been seriously considering healthy eating and exercising, which I include as part of my daily routine. Apart from the obvious physical advantages, exercise such as walking and jogging gives me the opportunity to clear my mind and plan ahead. I am also participating in a few organised runs and half-marathons.
‘I am an avid AC Milan fan, and part of my relaxing time is following my favourite football team. I find these activities very important in reaching a sustainable work-life balance.’
How could I disagree with that? It was an answer which perfectly fitted a structural engineer: sound, solid, and enduring.