Pushing the boundaries 

March 21, 2017

The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, with its fabulous views over the bridges of the River Tyne, provided a fitting venue for the latest Institution of Structural Engineers’ Northern Counties Regional Awards – an event that showcases engineering talent from across the region.

Gateshead-based engineering practice James Christopher Consulting (JCC) was awarded Best Large Project for its innovative design of an extension at St Thomas More School in Blaydon, while also winning Best Small Project for the design of a bespoke glass staircase and atrium for a new £10m private residential project in London (pictured).

It is the first time the company had entered its work in any competitions and, as such, was delighted to win two prestigious awards against such high quality entries.

Managing director Chris Lee explains: “For the past 13 years we have gone about our business, developing our client base and delivering some fantastic engineering solutions – happy to grow our business on recommendations.

“We have fantastic staff members who show their commitment to the company every day and winning these awards is recognition of the contribution they make, not only to the practice but more importantly to the development of engineering design in the industry as a whole.

“We are very proud of our work.”

Technical director Craig Higgins adds: “Our starting point for any project is to ask what would be the ‘normal way’ of solving this and can we find a better way?

“Sometimes we revert to a tried and tested method but more often than not there are improvements to be made – whether it makes something easier or safer to build, whether it costs less or looks better. Sometimes there are major innovations we can make that contribute to a substantial shift in methodology and delivery. We love it when we can move boundaries for the better.”

Traditionally a specialist structural engineering practice, the company is now focused on adopting this philosophy throughout the other rapidly expanding parts of the business, including geotechnical and environmental engineering, MEP design and product development.

Kris Haigh, also a technical director at the consultancy, adds: “Winning awards is great, but the real thing that excites us is being able to make a difference. The extension at St Thomas More may not have been viable if we hadn’t been able to find the solution that we did. Now the school has the capacity to educate more children on the same site.

“By adopting this culture across our multi-disciplinary team we are beginning to make a real difference in the way our clients are able to deliver improvements in both private and social housing, care facilities, community spaces and cultural buildings. Many of these jobs are on our own doorstep so we get to see the positive changes we are helping to make.”

JCC is currently finalising plans to set up a scheme offering free initial advice and heavily discounted rates for selected projects. The scheme will be open to registered charities that would benefit from early technical advice, where the projects are of significant local cultural benefit, or are of real architectural and engineering merit.

James Christopher Consulting 

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