Ben Owen, BEng (Hons) ’06, BSc ’06, has a key role in creating the new centrepiece of the University campus.
Ben is the project manager of the $250 million Kambri precinct, the University’s new cultural centre, a vibrant and energetic place where people will connect, live and study.
He was hired as a site engineer with Lend Lease, one of Australia’s largest building companies, just before he graduated in 2006. He has remained with the company over the last decade, managing projects ranging in value from $50 million to $600 million.
He says the ANU systems-focused engineering degree underpins his success and ability to manage complex challenges.
“In commercial building there’s a whole range of disciplines to manage, and having generalised knowledge across civil, structural and mechanical engineering is an advantage,” he says. “I work across all these disciplines, including people and resource management, to plan and deliver a project.”
And Kambri is one of the big ones.
“I’m asked all the time if I use my degree,” he says. “I do use it, but it’s not just that I remember equations to help me solve things. It’s more that my mind is trained to solve a problem – the systems engineering focus is what encourages me to ask the right questions at the right times.”
Ben is particularly pleased that ANU has invested in the construction of sustainable timber buildings.
This involves replacing the concrete structure with timber and the benefits to this approach are many.
“When sourced from plantation forests, timber is fundamentally the only truly renewable building product, there’s also a lost less material in out of the site, and the buildings go up quick” he says.
Various studies, including the 2014 Planet Ark Australian survey, have highlighted people’s perceptions of wood as warm, inviting, cosy, visually appealing and nice to touch.
International research also relays this consistent global message, and here in Australia it’s expected that this sustainable timber building methodology will pick up over the next decade.
Although Ben remembers not really knowing what to do when he completed year 12, he is pleased he ‘fell into’ project management. While he excelled at maths and physics, he also had a special interest in art and design and industrial courses like woodwork, a combination of areas that have collided to complement where he is now.
During his time at ANU, Ben completed an internship with the Department of Environment in the Office of Renewable Energy which was responsible for the mandatory renewable energy target legislation. He was involved in the administrative assessment area and often travelled to assess worksites as part of the accreditation process.
“This internship was a component of the sustainability and engineering course, and I worked there part-time for two years. It was great to be exposed to the administrative processes within the public service and see some of the work being done in the private sector.”
Now that Kambri has replaced Union Court, previously the central hub of the University, there is contagious excitement from students, staff and the public as the project landscape changes with each milestone.
“I think anyone who had been to the old Union Court knew it was really run down and that something needed to happen,” Ben says. “This development is transformative and Kambri will be the heart of the University and be really special place for students, staff and visitors.”
As Ben returns to campus each day, he can’t help but feel personally connected to the project he is leading. “For me it’s been great to come back to campus and give back to ANU as part of this development.”
Kambri will stand as a monument to the success of his work.