The Royal Academy of Engineering has awarded one of its highest accolades to Mott MacDonald engineer Alan Powderham. Alan received the Sustained Achievement Award at the Academy’s AGM in London on 5 July from the President, Lord Browne of Madingley.

In a career spanning over 40 years, Alan Powderham has brought engineering excellence to numerous projects setting new industry benchmarks in foundation engineering. His solutions have been described as dramatic and even adventurous. Yet central to Alan's approach is safety and value – he has a passion for relating theory to design and design to construction.

Alan constantly seeks to share knowledge and experience, enhancing the link between academia and practice. In addition to 20 years of lecturing, he has continued to initiate and support research through MSc dissertations, PhDs and engineering doctorates. This has ranged from instrumentation and protection of buildings from the effects of adjacent construction to renewable energy.

“It is such a special honour to receive this award,” says Alan. “Engineering, civil in my case, has provided an incredible career full of creative opportunities that have literally been engineering adventures. It has brought the friendship of some amazing and talented people. The recognition is wonderful but this award is also a testament to the success of communication and teamwork.”

In his determination to promote engineering excellence, Alan has pioneered the combination of the observational method and value engineering, stimulating a renaissance in the former during the construction of the Channel Tunnel in the 1980s. This success was soon followed by the Mansion House and Limehouse Link, the latter being cited as the UK's prime example of value engineering in civil engineering in the early 1990s.

In 1994, when the Heathrow Express rail link suffered a tunnel collapse threatening delays of up to 18 months, the dramatically simple recovery solution he proposed and led - involving the largest circular cofferdam ever constructed in the UK - enabled the project to be delivered within six months of the original programme all accomplished within the constraints of construction in a busy airport.

Alan superbly displayed UK engineering expertise in the USA on the Boston Central Artery jacked tunnel project - the biggest of its kind in the world. The original design concept presented major programme and safety issues. Alan's ingenious solution took three highways under Boston's rail network without disruption to 40,000 daily commuters. Praised by the US Department of Transportation as "a bold and challenging endeavour that has proven to be an engineering marvel", this highly innovative, low maintenance solution made a huge contribution to over US$300 million in construction savings realised on the project and was shortlisted for the Academy’s MacRobert Award for innovation in 2002.

These and many other projects encapsulate Alan's holistic approach to innovation and value engineering that also enhances safety and reduces risk. His success in using safety as a driver for innovation draws on his zeal in relating design to construction and overcoming perceived constraints to progress in a widely risky but risk-averse industry.

Alan is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institution of Structural Engineers, and serves on many industry committees including the Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS). He champions research and innovation at Mott MacDonald and at universities such as Imperial College - where he is a visiting professor - Cambridge, Illinois and Vienna. He gave the 2009 Vienna Terzaghi Lecture. This highlighted the opportunities that can be created by nurturing the synergy between risk management, safety and innovation.

Notes for editors

  1. Awarded to an engineer normally resident in the UK whose achievements have had a profound impact upon their engineering discipline, the Sustained Achievement Award applies particularly to those engineers who have not been recognised earlier in their careers for reasons such as latency in the impact of their work or late disclosure due to national or commercial secrecy.
  2. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering
Tel. 020 7766 0636; email:  Jane Sutton