Steve Burrows–a leading engineering visionary currently serving as Executive Vice President and USA Director of Buildings for San Francisco’s WSP engineering consultancy–might at first glance look like a typical engineer. But his background and sweeping curiosity about engineering’s potential to illuminate both the ancient past and the approaching future make him utterly unique.
Burrows can toss off engineer jokes with the best of them–but he notes that the stereotypes are patently false. “The jokes are legendary and of course, people do say engineers are boring, but I can’t remember ever once being bored in my job,” he muses. “Imagine having the chance to design a stadium where the Olympic Games take place. Who gets the chance to do something like that? Only engineers. When you see a news story about say, driverless cars coming soon, it is an engineer who thinks: how are we going to design city infrastructures and spaces for this? We turn the wildest concepts into realities.”
Burrows is lured by the past, drawn to exploring some of the most unique and mysterious engineering feats of ancient times. In Dream Big, he takes viewers on a trek over the peaks and hills of China’s Northern provinces, tracing the Great Wall of China.
Currently based in San Francisco, Steve has over 30 years of experience in engineering buildings around the world, leading the engineering of many significant projects, including Apple’s planned headquarters in Cupertino, CA; the Beijing Olympic Stadium (the Birdsnest); Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business; and the City of Manchester Stadium in the U.K., built for the Commonwealth Games. Additionally, Steve has experience in forensic engineering and structural assessment of damaged buildings, and made assessments after bombings in Manchester in 1996 and in Kenya in1998.
Steve received his BSc Honours in Civil Engineering from Liverpool Polytechnic. He is a chartered engineer in the U.K., a professional engineer in California, and a LEED AP. In addition, he is a fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, a member of the Institution of Structural Engineers, and a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Among the honors he has received are the Brunel Medal in 2004 and the distinguished Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2009. Steve also has presented presents engineering shows on the Science and National Geographic TV channels to promote engineering.
Steve is chock full of ideas on the future of engineering: “A big area of change right now is robotics and soon we’re going to see more machines involved in everyday projects. New materials are also coming–materials that will allow buildings to not only be more responsive to people, but also more sustainable and healthier. We’re also going to see more clever integrations of buildings and data–where a building might tell us where it’s experiencing stress or starting to crumble long before it becomes a problem. Buildings are going to have brains, in a sense, and that will be a big leap forward.”