Do you recall those plastic shovels you could buy in seaside gift shops, for use in the shallows on your summer holidays? David Lockett does.
As a child, he would put his plastic shovel to good use at his father’s precast concrete factory, ‘helping’ his dad move sand and stone around. ‘I was, no doubt, a complete nuisance.’ Those childhood exertions morphed into a Saturday job in David’s teens, and a conviction that a future as a structural engineer was inevitable. ‘Dad would come home and do all of his paperwork at night after working in the factory during the day,’ David recalls. ‘He’d lay out all his drawings on the dining table – the samples, all the different colours. I’d just end up asking lots of questions about what I was looking at.’
For some structural engineers, the choice between architecture and their eventual path is a finely balanced equation. One that could have gone either way with a bit of a push. That wasn’t the case for David. ‘I didn’t feel that architecture was for me. I have huge admiration for architects and their ability to conjure ideas, but I always felt like I was better at interpreting ideas and helping them to become real,’ he explains. ‘I bring practicality. I can take an architect’s idea and run with it.’ By the time David was about ten years’ old, he knew he wanted to be. ‘Recently my mum found one of my old schoolbooks where I had written ‘when I grow up I want to be a structural engineer’.
David is, a without doubt, a practical person – someone whose experience means there is little he hasn’t seen across his career. He is someone who has always been prepared to roll up his sleeves and turn his hand to any challenge. ‘I’ve driven forklifts in my dad’s yard. I’ve loaded lorries. When I was a young engineer I was seconded to a site in Pimlico, where an old school engineer really put me to work! I worked on the concrete gang, with the steel fixers and steel erectors. I had to scamper up the tower crane. It was not, and is not, what your typical site engineer does.’
That’s been the story of David’s working life. Someone who is always prepared to get stuck in, and learn an awful lot in the process. That job in Pimlico started in a chilly London February, where he had to rug up and keep warm in old clothes that bore the brunt of his exertions. ‘I was marking out the grid lines and I had to blow torch the slab to dry it before I could apply the paint. I loved it!’ David’s knowledge of construction is a huge professional strength that enhances the results on all his projects. Because of his background, he understands everything from excavating a site, pouring the concrete, designing structure to cater for building services, and appreciating the architectural vision for his projects. ‘I have worked on so many different projects, with different people, different architects, different types of work, different sectors – I have a bank of things that I’ve seen and done before,’ he notes. ‘I have a filing cabinet of jobs in my head that I can draw on.’ It’s rare experience that allows David to stay calm when some are losing their heads. It’s experience that counts.
David’s portfolio of projects runs the gamut of building typologies, in every sector and at every scale. But there’s a particular type of job he really loves working on – high-end, one-off housing. Why? It appeals to the perfectionist in him. ‘It annoys my wife,’ he says. ‘But no matter what project I work on, I see all the little imperfections. Clients building a one-off, high-end house – their own – are often people who share that personality trait. There’s a deeply satisfying engineering challenge on those projects and I am fulfilled by that attention to the finer details.’ David has worked on an impressive portfolio of high-end residential, particularly in London and the Home Counties. ‘I look out for those. I have lots of contacts from that corner of the industry because I’ve completed so many great projects, where everything has to be perfect’.
It's sometimes the case on David’s projects where sustainable design isn’t the client’s foremost priority, particularly those building their own homes. Does this cause him any sleepless nights? ‘Sustainable design is good design,’ David explains. ‘Just because a client hasn’t made sustainability their first concern, doesn’t mean they are not concerned. Sometimes it’s not their highest priority but they understand beauty and quality and cost. We work to show how sustainability can be a stealthy benefit of intelligent engineering that satisfies all their criteria.’
What is certainly true is that sustainability is at the forefront of David’s thinking, and that of his team and the practice. The reduction of embodied carbon in the built environment is a priority of Price & Myers, and David brings his decades of experience to the equation. His understanding, not only of materials and their use, but of the other disciplines in design and construction represents deep insight into what needs to be done to make buildings more sustainable. ‘We can’t sit quiet. Our expertise is increasingly important,’ he explains. ‘Being mindful of the whole life carbon equation, of balancing heavier structure for thermal mass against light-weight construction with smaller footings and less material for example, is key for the future.’
David is an engineer who stands at the nexus of relationships in any given project. He works as a conduit between client and architect, knowing how to honour the spirit of the designer’s idea and how to make it work for his client. He knows how to drive cost and carbon benefits using thoughtful engineering responses. It’s a long way since the plastic shovel at his Dad’s factory, but he is still someone who will roll up the sleeves and get stuck in.