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Profile Robin Whalley

Leader of the design team for Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport.

Next week Mott MacDonald's Robin Whalley returns to Chek Lap Kok island in Hong Kong for the first time in four years. He will be there to witness the official opening of the island's new international airport in his capacity as project director of the Mott Consortium which designed the huge terminal building.

A significant factor in the terminal's construction was the efficiency with which design and construction was managed.

Whalley was elected Individual Consultant of the Year by the British Consultants Bureau in 1995, in recognition of his achievement in seeing such a large scale and complex project through the design phase.

'The most important period is always at the beginning, when you have the greatest opportunity to influence the cost,' he says.

The Consortium had 90 days to review Greiner-Maunsell's masterplan. 'At the end of that 90 day period a lot of hard decisions had to be made. Broadly, we were looking at the cost of the building - the big numbers were frozen at that that point.' The Consortium produced an outline design towards the end of 1992 and concluded detail design between 1992 and 1994.

Whalley's 230-strong team united British airport operator BAA with architect Norman Foster & Partners, Mott MacDonald's local engineering office in Hong Kong and the consultant's Australian building services design subsidiary Mott Connell. 'It was a really Heinz 57 variety of skills that I feel gave the authority a resource that was second to none,' Whalley says.

Whalley joined what was then Mott Hay & Anderson straight from university in1966. He wanted to be involved in 'big projects', and Mott did them. Over the years he has worked on metros in Melbourne, Brussels, Adelaide and Manchester as well as on the Channel Tunnel.

Whalley first worked in Hong Kong in 1986 as project director of the three year Hong Kong Port & Airport Development Study.

Between 1990 and 1991, when the Mott Consortium was bidding for the terminal contract, Whalley was in charge of the North Lantau Development Plan. By then well acquainted with both the area and the Hong Kong government, he feels his experience was useful, if not critical, in securing the contract.

After 13 years in Hong Kong, Whalley formed a deep affection for Lantau island. 'I found it wonderful to be out there walking in the early 1980s. In a way it is sad because the north side of Lantau is changed forever.' He is concerned that the new town building instigated by construction of the airport may in time invade the whole island. 'The south side is a remote, beautiful area, with lovely sandy beaches. I hope it is not opened to the ravages of development and turned into another Hong Kong island. As a romantic I would like to think it won't be. But as a realist I think it may well,' he says.

Andrew Mylius

See feature, page19

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