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Working lives

Florian Foerster, 34, originally from Germany, is a graduate civil/structural engineer working for consultant Buro Happold Route to the job I actually trained first as an artist, taking a fine arts course at Manchester Metropolitan University. After graduating in 1993 I became a print-making technician, while continuing to exhibit my drawings, paintings and prints. Then in 1994 I began a three year Bachelor of Engineering course at Manchester University.

During my course I did short spells with SMP/Atelier One as a structural engineering technician, working on projects such as the Firs Conference Centre in Manchester and Chelsea FC's north west stand. Three months with MODUS, also in Manchester, involved taking on the responsibilities of a design engineer for a theatre extension and a mill refurbishment.

In 1997 I joined Buro Happold, originally in the Bath head office.

After working on a wide variety of projects I moved back up to Manchester when the practice opened its office there in 1998.

Since then I have been involved in projects as diverse as a major refurbishment in Liverpool and a complex tubular steel footbridge in Germany.

This year I passed the stiff examination to be come a member of the Institution of Structural Engineers. I am also a graduate member of ICE.

Expectations My interest in design was the main reason I switched from art to engineering. Buildings and bridges excite me most, and I looked forward to working with architects and engineers in small teams on challenging projects. I did consider doing an architectural course, but it seemed to me that architecture involved too much talk, too much theory and not enough understanding of how the loads actually get into the ground.

Reality My background does seem to make it easier for me to get on well with architects and to understand what they are trying to achieve. Complicated geometries are easier to understand as well.

Buro Happold has been very encouraging and gave me responsibility for projects early in my career. Working alongside experienced engineers has been very illuminating. Recently I spent nine months at Buro Happold's Berlin office, and found the situation there much more formal and bureaucratic - designers are rarely involved in projects beyond the tender stage. Certainly it would have been much more difficult to switch careers there.

I continue to exhibit my art, much of which features buildings!

Advice Unless you work on a project from concept to construction you will never really understand the importance of the details.

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