Building Foundations with Rob Delahunty

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Joining Webb Yates over 14 years ago and with a very long list of projects in the bag, Rob Delahunty, Associate Director, shares with us what most inspires him, how he ended up in engineering and his all-time favourite spots.  

Which Webb Yates Engineers project are you most proud of and why?

Having worked for Webb Yates Engineers for just over 14 years, and I’ve worked on a very long list of projects. Several of these stand out; including our student accommodation project for the University of Sheffield. This was built using volumetric modular construction and provided 1000 student beds on a very steep site. The finished project provided some very smart student accommodation, certainly more appealing than when I was at University. But I’m most proud of how the Webb Yates team rose to the challenge of delivering what was, at the time, one of our biggest jobs.

I have also worked on numerous temporary structures that have generally all been very rewarding. However, one of these really stands out and that is the structure built for Land Rover to launch the Discovery. The project involved building a working scale model of Tower Bridge that would allow a Land Rover Discovery to be driven over it. The really special part was that the whole bridge was clad in standard Lego pieces, just under 6m of them to be precise, which was a Guinness World Record.


Why did you choose engineering as a career?

I’m not entirely sure I chose it. I think I was always destined to do something engineering-related. My father was a mechanic for a Formula 3 team in the 60’s and my uncles and grandfathers were all from agricultural backgrounds, so they were always making or fixing something. So, I grew up helping put things together or take them apart.

Why Structural engineering in particular? I think it is partly down to the limited careers advice available at school and my own perception of what the other engineering disciplines would involve. Civil and Structural Engineering sounded to me as though it would be more varied and, looking at the range of projects I have worked on over the years, it definitely has been.  


What would you be doing if you weren’t an engineer?

That’s a really difficult question. I’ve always been a keen photographer so that might have been a route I took or possibly working in agriculture.


Which product or building has most inspired you and why?

Two very different things have inspired me, the first is the Lotus 7 car and the second is the façade of Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. The first is a pure example of how less is more; it is in essence a space frame with an engine at one end and a seat at the other. But the driving experience and performance is arguably more rewarding than that of far more modern technological cars. The façade of Institute du Monde Arabe on the other hand, takes traditional mashrabiya patterns that were used in the Middle East as screens to provide shade and ventilation and adds mechanical irises and photocells. The result is a façade that controls the light entering the building using a complex mass of mechanical elements.

In each case an engineer has been involved in their creation and they act as a reminder to challenge design solutions to see if they can be improved by adding something extra or, perhaps more importantly, by removing something. 


What is the most difficult challenge you’ve overcome at Webb Yates Engineers?

I joined Webb Yates just over 14 years ago as the fifth full time employee. I had come from Capita, an international organisation, and suddenly found myself in a very small company where for example, if something broke, there wasn’t an IT department to fix it. So that was quite a big challenge and adjustment. In those first few years of working at Webb Yates there were a lot of firsts for me but the unofficial company motto, “How hard can it be?” was a great reminder that I could work through the challenge.


What are your ambitions for the future?

One thing I have always wanted to work on is an implosion. I’ve done several demolition projects with tricky constraints but to be involved in a project where you ‘fold’ a structure in on itself would be great. 


What advice would you give to your younger self?

Believe in yourself more.


Where is your favourite place to be?

It’s hard to choose just one. I love standing on top of Alderley Edge looking out over the Cheshire countryside. On a clear day (it’s not far from Manchester so these are limited) you can see for miles and it reminds me of my childhood.

Not much beats being behind the wheel of my Caterham 7 on a sunny day driving on a twisting road with the wind in my face. 

If I can’t get to do those then if I have a good Islay single malt in my hand, I’m happy most places!