Kevin Winward (left), Andrew Mather

5 June 2014 – The recent merger between global engineering firm WSP and Melbourne-based structural engineering specialist WINWARD Group, which incorporates WINWARD Structures and WINWARD Civil  is designed to capitalise on the move towards taller buildings in major cities both in Australia and globally.

The heads of the two companies met in Sydney last week to finalise details of the merger ahead of public announcement earlier this week.

In an interview with The Fifth Estate amid a heavy round of meetings, the two made it clear they expected the merged company would deliver a number of opportunities, quite apart from the efficiencies of operating from a common platform.

Primarily, said WINWARD Structures executive chairman Kevin Winward and WSP managing director Andrew Mather, the merger will deliver synergies and is an important acknowledgement of the close links between building services, building structures and building performance.

There’s not a great risk to the deal. The two companies have already established a close working relationship on several including the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, Southern Cross Station, and the Economics and Commerce Building at the University of Melbourne.

The two also worked on the design for a massive kilometre-high tower in Dubai being developed by Nakheel, whose construction was interrupted by the global financial crisis.

A common set of values and style of operation have added confidence to the deal, they said.

The merged entity will be known as WSP Structures. WINWARD, with staff of about 50 people, will add to WSP’s current staff numbers of about 460 in Australia and 17,000 globally.

For now WINWARD’s existing premises will be retained in Melbourne and  it will co-locate with WSP in  Perth and Brisbane.

Mr Mather said WSP believed strongly in allowing smaller groups within the company to flourish.

“We try to create smaller pockets of excellence that can focus on being the best in their field and this allows us to create a family environment, so that you don’t feel like you’re one unit out of 17,000.

“We work very hard to try to retain that.”

Mr Winward and fellow directors at WINWARD – Graham Rogers and Peter Hindmarch have worked together over many years, originally as part of the Bonacci Winward Group, which commenced operations in 1981 and later joining Mr Winward when he formed WINWARD in 2000. Mark Hennessy joined as a director in 2013.

According to Mr Winward, his firm specialises in “tall slender towers”. These will be a thing of the future, he says, driven by space constraints and an almost universal demand for people to “all want to be in the city”.

In Melbourne, he said, the company was working on three residential towers of about 90 storeys that would be up to 280 metres in height. At least one new tower is planned for more than 280 mnetres but aviation restrictions apply due to the location of Essendon Airport, not far from the city.

Sydney was also joining the rush to go higher. One large building WSP is consulting on is Greenland’s tower at 115 Bathurst Street, which will be  235 metres tall, with 70 storeys of mixed residential and commercial

But how sustainable are tall buildings given their need for the greater amount of resources needed to support super-high structures? Certainly in terms of transport greater concentrated could reduce car travel.

“It’s more sustainable to go high rise in terms of transport and footprint on the Earth,” Mr Mather said.

“Tall buildings can also be sustainable in terms of utilities because you can have a central plant system to heat and cool the whole building rather than separate plants over several buildings.”

There was a difference in outcomes, however, between tall commercial and residential towers. While both tenants and owners of office towers are driving sustainability outcome, that’s not generally the case for residential, where units are sold off to buyers who have little say – and often little concern – for sustainability.

“Resi buildings don’t tend to have such a green focus,” Mr Winward said.

The biggest contribution his team could make to sustainability, he said, was by dealing with the unique challenges of tall buildings with better design. This could save material resources, such as concrete and steel, as well as human resources by shaving construction time.

In one recent design the company was able to save 20 per cent of construction costs by designing for more efficient use of material and cutting the time needed for construction. The financial benefit was worth several million dollars, Mr Winward said.

Was the company interested in using more timber in construction?

In some cases alternative materials such as cross- laminated timber might be appropriate, Mr Winward said, and blending materials was a good idea.

“I’m a great believer in the idea that we can mix materials,” he said, “such as using steel and concrete combinations that are a little different.

“And maybe we can use concrete and timbers… I don’t think you have to be a purist.”

Measuring the relative efficiencies of various options was where WSP Built Ecology stepped in, Mr Mather said.

“Our Built Ecology team looks at high performance facades; the impact of different types of glass, how it should be angled and differences in how you can orient the building.

“These days value engineering is important to projects – there are always different ideas that might save time and money.”

On the current outlook for the business and the industry, Mr Mather said, “Sydney is bubbling. We had a very strong finish at the end of last year.

“Major infrastructure, like the North-West Rail Link and the Sydney Convention Centre are stimulating industry in Sydney.”

WSP has also been finishing Central Park and some health-related projects in Sydney.

He said the recent federal budget was “terrific” for engineering and though federal government stimulus was concentrated on roads rather than public transport, this would have flow on effects.

“Transport nodes create opportunities. You can create an arterial corridor to generate economic development. You build the roads “and then all the private developers get on board and develop along those corridors.

“Australia needs employment opportunities,” Mr Mather said.