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Katherine Tobin, engineer
Andy Parsons

Things you only know if you build skyscrapers

By
James FitzGerald
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…according to Katherine Tobin, 26.

Building high means digging deep

‘My company, WSP, is helping to build 22 Bishopsgate, which will be the tallest tower in the City of London when it’s finished. But skyscrapers actually extend a long way below ground as well as above it. In this case, we’re reusing foundations that go 50 metres deep. In the past, my colleagues have dug up Viking boats and skeletons during their work – and had to avoid hitting tube tunnels.’

Engineers would love to build even higher than they currently do

‘Tall buildings can be really efficient, packing a lot on to a very small footprint. We’d love to make our buildings even taller, but flight paths often get in the way. Plus, you can only build high in areas where certain views of historic buildings like St Paul’s Cathedral won’t be blocked.’

Working on very tall buildings requires a strong stomach

‘Standing on a little piece of scaffolding on top of our building site recently, I realised that any fear of heights I might have once had has totally gone. It’s nice to think I could always change career and become a tightrope walker if I wanted to. Besides vertigo, people can also be affected at this altitude by seasickness. That’s because tall buildings sway a tiny bit in the wind – it’s part of their design!’

Engineering is still short of women

‘Lots of people are shocked when I tell them what I do for a living. They think an engineer is a man in mucky overalls with a spanner. The shortage of women in this industry is frustrating, although some companies are working to change that.’

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