The October 2014 acquisition of consulting giant Parsons Brinckerhoff by Montréal-based WSP, one of the world’s leading professional services firms, represents the essence of how engineering has evolved over many years. Given the challenges the companies faced in order to accommodate a growing global population, the resulting 31,500 employees in five hundred offices on five continents have the heft to influence the built environment in very significant ways.
The predecessors of both entities stretch back to the middle of the nineteenth century. Projects from those predecessors include New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, the city’s original subway system, and the Cape Cod Canal. The Canadian unit has worked in the United States since 2000, having established multiple offices and capabilities throughout the country’s provinces, as well as in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. The Parsons unit has a well-established engineering practice in the United Kingdom that also encompasses work in the Middle East, India, and Africa.
With such global reach comes work that addresses global problems. For example, WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff assembled an international team from Spain, Italy, South Africa, and Rwanda to provide sustainability consulting to achieve Green Star certification—which is similar to the LEED system, but created for the sub-Saharan climate—of the nineteen-storey Nobelia Office Tower in Kigali, Rwanda. The structure includes on-site water treatment that reduces by 90 percent the discharge of grey and black water, on-site composting, and a mesh structure on the building façade to support shade-producing plant growth.
The organization shared three projects that illustrate the breadth of its design capabilities.
Location: Barrie, Ontario
A growing community in the Greater Toronto region, the city of Barrie needed to access water from a new source—the Kempenfelt Bay on Lake Simcoe. WSP lent its consulting engineering capabilities to build a water treatment plant with a capacity for handling up to 240 million millilitres per day of water to serve the city’s 135,000 residents and industries.
But this is no ordinary water treatment plant. Completed in 2013, it has a LEED-inspired design complete with a green, vegetated roof that covers a majority of the plant and parking garage, effectively integrating it into the existing landscape. In deference to nearby residents, the air-handling units are positioned inside the building and away from houses.
Locations: Las Vegas, New York, Madrid, and Moscow
The famed performance phénomène, based in Montréal, needed an intricate, comprehensive, technically complex, and safe stage set for the show Zarkana. It is the task of engineers to provide lateral stability on such things as a bearing system on freestanding towers that challenged acrobats and thrilled audiences in its five-year run (2011–2016).
The WSP team served as the principal consultant for the show’s scenographic infrastructure, complete with moving parts. Perhaps one
of the biggest tricks was to make
the set design work in multiple venues, each meeting the varying technical and safety requirements of the local jurisdiction.
Location: Ottawa, Ontario
When a structure is about showcasing the best in its industry, the pressure is on to make everything perfect. The LEED Platinum-certified building is a living laboratory for Algonquin College students—combining different construction materials, technologies, and systems that future carpenters, plumbers, civil-engineering technologists, interior designers, and related tradespeople will use in twenty-first century buildings. WSP provided structural engineering and LEED consulting services on the project.
These projects illustrate that some very basic, very essential things—water, education, workplaces, and entertainment—are wholly dependent on engineering competency. Fortunately, the engineers at WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff know of no limits on the imagination.