Design Director, Tunnels
Aurecon’s Design Director for Tunnels, Harry Asche plays integral roles in the firm’s most technically complex projects. Previous experience includes the West Gate Tunnel Project in Melbourne and the WestConnex NewM5 in Sydney, just to name a few. With almost 40 years in the design and construction of public sector infrastructure, Harry was named 2018 Queensland Professional Engineer of the Year at the Engineering Excellence Awards.
How long have you been a member of Engineers Australia?
I have been a member since 1990.
Why did you pursue a career in engineering?
Engineering offered to combine my love of applied mathematics with practical solutions. I could have chosen other careers, but I have to admit that engineering was probably the best suited to my temperament.
At university, structural engineering of tall buildings sounded really exciting until I spent time designing beams and columns and became frustrated by the codification involved in this type of engineering – hence why I admire the patience of structural engineers.
However, I was lucky enough to be sitting behind a tunnelling expert during my early years out of university. We were sitting at our drawing boards and I became interested in what he was doing. I borrowed a book from him and realised that the unknowns of this discipline were exciting so I decided at that early stage that this was the path for me.
So I began my career in heavy civil structures, then became first interested in, and consequently hooked on tunnelling, because it involves the greatest need for expertise, risk management and teamwork during design and construction. As a design and construction manager of a range of heavy civil structures, I also found that broad understanding of all aspects of projects leads to maximum innovation.
How can Australian communities/people/society benefit from your work now and in the future?
During the past 15 years I’ve led multi-disciplinary teams in Australia and New Zealand, as well as provided specialist advice for tunnels in Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia. I like to think that what we do leaves a legacy for those regions.
It’s definitely the case that what was once considered okay in terms of the way we moved people and goods in the past is no longer suitable to our current urban environments. By moving traffic underground, we can have more space above ground for community activities and we can reduce the time it takes for people to move around their cities. Tunnelling can bring communities closer.
What’s interesting will be to see in the future how tunnelling can be used for longer distances, not only for transport but for our utilities such as sewerage.
What is the most challenging or interesting project you’ve ever worked on?
The Rosedale Tunnel in Auckland was a small project with the maximum amount of multi-disciplinary engineering I’ve ever worked on. We had to solve problems not only related to tunnelling, but we had hydraulic issues and marine operations. I found this absolutely fascinating and because it was a smaller project there wasn’t an army of document controllers; it was done by individuals across all disciplines in tight-knit teams. Often on the larger projects with multiple packages, the fascination gets lost in the process but for this, we had to do it all ourselves.
What do you see as some of the biggest issues facing the engineering profession?
There are always uncertainties on every project, no matter how big or small, and we must ensure that we continue to plan and mitigate for these. The role of the engineer is changing. Technology is allowing us to design with much more accuracy and much faster than we have ever done before. At Aurecon, we have embraced the progress of this digital revolution and we must continue to innovate so that as engineers we are using this technology in the best possible way to understand where these uncertainties are and to plan and mitigate.
What excites you about the future of the profession or what opportunities do you see for the future?
The young people coming into the profession who I enjoy working with. Some of the people we have working in our teams here at Aurecon are amazing and the things they are achieving inspire me. I would like to be part of their journey moving forward.
Who is your engineering hero?
Karl Terzaghi, the Austrian geotechnical engineer and geologist who was part of the creation of soil and rock mechanics. He was a pioneer in tunnelling and was very practical, not to mention his writings are amazing in how ahead of the time they were. I love to read the things he wrote 100 years ago.
Image: courtesy of Harry Asche