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Emma O'Neill BEng Scty '16

Civil Engineering & Society | Seeing the Forest in the Trees

Wood – one of the world’s oldest building products – is also one of today’s hottest architectural trends.

Long recognized for its aesthetic beauty, the use of wood in commercial construction is also growing. In 2018, work started on a 70-storey Tokyo skyscraper set to become the world’s tallest timber building. When completed, it will dwarf the current tallest wooden structure, an 18-storey student residence at the University of British Columbia.

It’s a “fascinating and up-and-coming industry,” says Emma O’Neill, a 2016 Civil Engineering & Society graduate who went on to complete her Master of Engineering in Integrated Wood Design at the University of Northern British Columbia.

She now works as a graduate engineer at PTL Structural Consultants in Christchurch, New Zealand, a firm focusing largely on the engineering of timber buildings.

“I’ve always been fascinated with how the structures around us impact our quality of life, as well as provide security, inspiration, and beauty to our environment,” says O’Neill. “I’m drawn to timber particularly, because it has a very artisanal feel to it, as well as being sustainable.

“I think my Engineering & Society degree inspired me to look at engineering from another perspective besides just the technical side, which ultimately encouraged me to think critically about where I fit into this industry and how I can use my knowledge and skills to help drive positive change in society.”

The benefit of working in a small company to launch her career, says O’Neill, is that she is exposed to a wide variety of design tasks and projects. “At this point, I am finding every project I get to work on to be an amazing learning opportunity.”

 That’s an attitude she encourages students to adopt.

“Take every experience, opportunity, job, class, and club that you have and learn from it,” she says. “Even if it doesn’t seem to fit into your grand life plan, there’s always an opportunity to learn and grow, and you might even be surprised to find that your plans change for the better.”