From CERN in Switzerland to The Great Belt Bridge in Denmark – former CEO in COWI Klaus Ostenfeld has left his mark on many massive constructions throughout his more than 40 years in COWI. Last week, he was awarded the annual Prix Albert Caquot by the French Association of Civil Engineering.
"When you stand by a bridge listening to the buzzing of the traffic, there is something oddly magical about it,” says Klaus Ostenfeld, former CEO in COWI, who has left a mark on many major bridges around the world.
Last week, he received the prestigious annual Prix Albert Caquot award from the French Association of Civil Engineering based on his career as well as his lifework in bridges. As a young engineer and the nephew of COWI’s founder, Chr. Ostenfeld, Klaus Ostenfeld started in COWI back in 1966. His first project involved the foundation of one of the research facilities in the nuclear research centre CERN in Switzerland.
"I had to create structures that wouldn't give in even one tenth of a millimetre while supporting massive, heavy equipment. With no Internet back then, I scoured everything I could find in the library," he recollects.
After four years, he wanted to experience what the world outside Denmark had to offer. He lived in the US and France for a collective seven years before a very special bridge caught his attention and made him return to Denmark in 1977.
“I came back to Denmark for one reason – to build one of the largest suspension bridges in the world: The Great Belt Bridge,” Klaus Ostenfeld says.
The bridge of a lifetime
Years before the Great Belt Bridge, the Little Belt Bridge was one of the first major bridges of Klaus Ostenfeld's career – and also somewhat unusual. It required a form of diving certificate, as he was sent 20 metres below sea level into the pressurised foundation caisson to inspect it before it was filled with concrete to connect the pylons with the caisson.
"We all sounded like Donald Duck down there due to the air pressure. This approach was later deemed too dangerous because changes in pressure could cause the sea floor to blow out, and the entire team would be wiped out. But I was a young engineer and up for anything," Klaus Ostenfeld recounts.
Having worked on the Little Belt Bridge, the Great Belt Link was an opportunity of a lifetime and it became the stepping-stone for Klaus Ostenfeld to become CEO in COWI. Here, he developed the mind-set of making COWI a world-class specialist within specific fields. But the position came with a price. The board chairman told him: "If you accept, you will have to give up bridges".
Klaus Ostenfeld agreed – to some extent. He no longer built bridges in COWI but concentrated on setting the direction for COWI.
But he has now returned to bridges as an independent consultant and worked with COWI on for example The Strait of Messina Bridge. It is also his lifework within bridges that has awarded him the Prix Albert Caquot, which is given for a lifetime of scientific and technical achievements.
“I will always consider The Great Belt Bridge my test piece. It was a challenge from start to finish where we had to put all our brain cells to good use – first to win all three projects; the rail tunnel, west bridge and the east main suspension bridge, and then to actually make it a reality. It is THE bridge of my career,” Klaus Ostenfeld concludes.