I was born and raised in Lisbon, Portugal, where I lived very close to the 25th of April Bridge over the River Tagus. Every day on the way to school, I would pass under the bridge, look at it and amazed by its scale, I kept asking myself “How did they make it?" Now I know, and I still think it is one of the greatest suspension bridges of the world.
I became intrigued by the design and construction of bridges from an early age. I liked maths and physics so it was natural for me to study structural engineering.
After all these years, I am still fascinated with bridges.
The beneficial impact of bridges in societies, in that they enable new connections between communities and improve the life of many people is one aspect.
However, what makes working with bridges special for me is how much of their shape and function is connected to the structural engineer’s role. The ability to push the limits of our understanding of structural behaviour and material properties is essential in defining the look and the scale of bridges. How much traffic they can carry, how strong an earthquake they can endure, or how long they can be in service.
Good engineering is simply key to the success of any bridge project.
What makes working with bridges special for me is how much of their shape and function is connected to the structural engineer’s role
Back in Lisbon, I worked for a local contractor for one year. Although I enjoyed my time there, I had a desire to live abroad.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to do a PhD at the Technical University of Denmark. From there, I never looked back. It made perfect sense as my project was about combining the Danish experience in reinforced concrete design with earthquake engineering, which is a very relevant topic within structural engineering in Portugal.
After I completed my PhD, I was ready to start my career as a bridge engineer and immediately applied for a position in COWI's Bridge Department.
Due to my background in earthquake engineering, I try to be involved as much as possible in projects where my expertise is required. I have worked with cable-stayed bridges all over the ranging from Algeria to Venezuela and with the New New York Bridge (Tappan Zee) which is about to be completed.
Constantine Bridge, Algeria© COWI
Puente Nigale, Venezuela© COWI
The New New York Bridge (Tappan Zee), USA© NYSTA
Since I joined COWI, I always toyed with the idea of moving to another country. In 2013, I had the opportunity to move to Vancouver in West Coast of Canada. I lived there with my family for 2.5 years.
My time in Vancouver was great, both personally and professionally. Vancouver absolutely lived up to its reputation for being one of the most livable cities in the world, and as the local COWI office also has a lot of experience in seismic design and earthquake engineering, I felt right at home.
I had unique access to nature, there was great skiing on my doorstep, and I developed my experience within earthquake engineering even further by being involved with the seismic rehabilitation of the Pattullo Bridge in Vancouver.
I developed my experience within earthquake engineering even further working with the seismic rehabilitation of the Patullo Bridge in Vancouver
Two things come to mind when I think about working in Denmark.
First of all - flexibility. For me, it is important to be able to take my daughter to school or football practice during the week. I am able to work from home and sometimes I even work a few days from Lisbon. This enables me to spend extra time with my parents and maintain friendships from my hometown. This works because of the trust-based relationship I have with COWI. I am evaluated on the quality of the work I produce and my ability to deliver it on time and budget, rather than the amount of hours I stay in the office.
Secondly, I enjoy working in a flat organisation like COWI. It is more comfortable and enjoyable to work in an environment with the opportunity to socialise with colleagues, regardless of position or rank in the Company. But, critically, I believe the flat hierarchy is one of the key strengths of the Danish work environment, as it facilitates the realisation of the potential of the organisation’s intellectual capital. Good input can come from anybody, no matter whether you are a less experienced younger engineer, senior engineer or manager. The culture is one of free dialogue, which often leads to better and more efficient solutions to any given challenge.
I am currently working as the Seismic Lead for the European Spallation Source (ESS), which is a nuclear scientific research facility under construction outside of Lund, Sweden. Even though it is not a bridge, this is a very unique project and has been one of the greatest challenges of my career. The ESS will be the largest Neutron Source in the world, and it must fulfil the very stringent requirements of the nuclear industry - including seismic design for earthquake loads with a return period of 1 million years - and to be approved by the Swedish Radiation Authority.
One of the things I enjoy most about working at COWI is access. Access to these types of world-class projects and access to a large network of engineering professionals both in terms of size but also in range of expertise. It is great to work in a place where someone, somewhere in the world may have the answer.
João Luís Domingues Costa
Senior Bridge Specialist
Bridges International, Denmark