Eye for art helps structural work

  • From: The Australian
  • November 01, 2012 12:00AM
  • pic Jake Nowakowski



Kevin Winward, at his Melbourne office, has been scouting for art in the Northern Territory as well as for engineering work for his company.



THE first thing you notice about Kevin Winward is his glasses. Smooth and black below and checkered above, they divide his face in a conspicuous portrayal of the artistic and technical sides of his personality that are also deeply ingrained in his life.



The structural engineer, who sells Aboriginal art and is a frequent traveller to the Northern Territory, is perhaps best known for his firm's role in masterminding the engineering side of Melbourne's dramatic Southern Cross Station.


With its wavy roof and flowing lines, the building resembles a shaken sheet, or perhaps the surface of a briefly angered pool.


"It was a very unique and challenging design to build, above an operating station," Winward says.  "There was a great deal of innovation in most aspects of the design, structurally and otherwise. And I guess the fact that the structure is so much a part of the architecture meant, for us, it was quite special."


When British firm Grimshaw Architects, which designed the station with Jackson Architecture of Melbourne, won an award from the Royal Institute of British Architects for the project, Winward was called on stage to share the glory, a moment he recalls fondly.


Winward, whose father was a carpenter, is executive chairman of engineering services firm Winward Structures, part of Winward Group. He began his first practice in 1981. He and a partner, Matt Bonacci, built a successful business, Bonacci Winward Group, with offices around the world.


He says he has always had a love of art, regarding buildings as "works of art in their own right", but gradually lost touch with that side of his life.


"After 20 years, I had worked myself out of the creative, design side of the business and into a more administrative role," Winward says.


"So, at the end of 1999, I decided to start again."


As the millennium ticked over, he began Melbourne-based Winward Structures, which started small but quickly began taking on significant jobs.


The firm has about 50 employees, offices in Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, a partnership in London, and plans to expand.


Along with scouting for artworks in the NT, most recently in the Tiwi Islands, Winward is also sniffing out some engineering work for his company up north.

"We look for the jobs that are more difficult, more challenging," Winward says. "I've tried to make engineering a creative pursuit, rather than just calculations and science." 


Winward says the property industry, like many others, still suffers the after-effects of the global financial crisis.  "It's pretty tough at the moment," he says.   "Investments are limited and issues like the resources tax and the carbon tax add to the uncertainty."


In the past Winward Structures focused on commercial work, including high-profile projects such as ANZ's headquarters in Melbourne and Lang Walker's Collins Square, but recently it has expanded into the resources sector in an attempt to combat the downturn.


"In the commercial sector, everything has got to be very tight and efficient, whereas that hasn't always been the case in the resources sector," he says.  "But it's a changed world now. I think that gives us the opportunity to bring our skills and attitude from the commercial sector into the resources sector, and be very effective there."


Winward says one of the problems created by the downturn is cost-cutting leading to bad decisions.  "Hasty decisions at the margins of a project can actually lead to cost overruns that are enormous," he says. "I think the builders would say the same. Their margins have been driven so low that it makes for a potentially litigious building environment."


He predicts a slow recovery for most Australian property markets in the next couple of years.  "I think it's going to take a while to come back, but I think it's going to stabilise and rebuild."