Name: Leon Walsh
Job title: Senior Structural Engineer (Heritage)
Department: Structural Engineering
Leon Walsh joined Patrick Parsons in June 2007, making this his twelfth year with the firm. Here, we discuss his career to date, his passion for heritage projects and his hopes for the future of Patrick Parsons.
What attracted you to Patrick Parsons and your current position?
I’ve always had an interest in historic buildings, and when I had my interview, I was very tempted by the projects Patrick Parsons had worked on; these included Durham Cathedral and Alnwick Castle.
Working with historic buildings was always something I wanted to do, but I knew it was difficult to get into. I was lucky to begin building my experience with Patrick Parsons.
What kind of projects do you usually work on, and which ones have you particularly enjoyed?
Since starting at Patrick Parsons I’ve worked on a huge variety of projects across the country but the most interesting are the heritage projects. The first major project being The Spanish City, where we managed to preserve the structural integrity, saving the building from demolition and enabling future restoration.
Following various smaller projects, I was the Project Engineer for the Open Treasures Exhibition at Durham Cathedral, which was a fantastic project to be involved with. We worked very closely with the Conservation Architect, client and archaeologist to create the exhibition, which was then opened by Prince Charles and went on to be presented with the RIBA Conservation Award.
Another project I am passionate about is Bicester Heritage. The restoration of a World War II RAF Bomber Station, which is the only surviving airfield from that era that has all the original buildings and layout still intact and is now a well renowned centre for automotive excellence and stunning events venue.
My heritage work isn’t limited to buildings, I am involved with historic bridges, tunnels, lidos, garden walls and monuments to name but a few. My daily work is very varied and hugely rewarding.
In your opinion, what do you think is important when working with historic buildings?
A vital part of Heritage Engineering is conservation.
I strive to ensure that my specifications use historic methods and materials and any modernisations are sympathetic and can be reversed should the need arise. Most importantly, however, is the need to use common sense. Some of the longest standing buildings cannot be justified using our modern codes of practice and calculations, so a consideration and understanding of how they were constructed and how they work structurally is essential.
What is the difference between Heritage Engineering and Conservation Engineering?
They are two different avenues: conservation engineering requires a solution that is reversible so, in the future, buildings can be put back to their original state. Like with the Open Treasures Exhibition, conservation engineering is putting something new into an old building. Heritage engineering is when repairs are made to an existing building to prolong its longevity, involving methods such as timber repairs, replacing the wood if it is rotten or has been damaged by insects.
When it comes to both conservation and heritage engineering, we try to use the same or similar materials and workmanship to the original where possible.
What are your future aspirations for your time at Patrick Parsons?
In terms of personal aspirations, I’m working towards achieving the Conservation Accreditation Register for Engineers (CARE) and Chartered Engineer status this year. It is my intention to develop a Heritage Department here at Patrick Parsons and become a nationwide centre of excellence, working with clients all over the country.