Alessia Di Cuia and Jessye Lennie - Structural Engineers

Structural engineers designing core aspects of The Wave Bristol, a visionary inland surfing destination using cutting-edge ‘Cove’ wave-making technology to provide up to 1,000 waves per hour. In an interview originally published by The Wave, Alessia and Jessye talk about what their work on the project has involved.

What aspects of the project are you responsible for?

Alessia: We are both structural engineers and we work across the two main structural engineering elements of the project – the clubhouse and the lake. I worked on the lake and have been responsible for the design of the retaining walls, slabs and central pier. I also designed the walkway on top of the central wall.

Jessye: My focus is the clubhouse, which is designed as a long, single-storey building that opens on to the terrace overlooking the lake.

Describe a typical day for you working on this project?

Alessia: There isn’t really a typical day and it’s been very full on! When I was asked to work on The Wave, I remember my line manager saying, “Alessia, I need to talk to you about this surfing lake project”. I hadn’t heard about it and it was a completely new and unique project, unlike anything I’d done before, but I was extremely excited by the challenge. I’ve worked on this project for a few months now, eight hours per day, and I’m excited to see the finished result.

What makes this an interesting project to work on?

Alessia: It’s very cool. There is currently a similar surfing lake being built in Australia, which is famous for surfing, and it’s brilliant to be working on the first one of it’s kind over here. To be honest, the challenge is the most interesting part of this project. The technology is new and has never been built on this scale. The site itself also presents some engineering challenges and it’s really exciting when you work out how to overcome these. I might never work on something like this again so I’m making the most of the experience!

Jessye: The clubhouse is a lightweight structure, so we’re using glulam timber. It’s a material you don’t often get to use, but it was perfect for this structure and it is much more sustainable. The architect and the team at The Wave were very keen to embrace sustainable materials, so this was a great opportunity to use this product and that’s been interesting for me from an engineering point of view.

What most excites you about the project?

Alessia: Everyone is talking about this project. When I tell people I’m working on it, they get super excited and tell me how amazing it is. If I go to meetings, they’ll ask me how The Wave is going before any other project. It’s an amazing experience for me as an engineer - The Wave has been my first big job.

Jessye: It’s been a pleasure that The Wave Founder, Nick, has been so interested in the structural design. He has been passionate about what he wants to achieve and has taken a real interest in what we’re doing and the design.

Any particular challenges from an engineering perspective?

Alessia: The design of this project is very dynamic. The waves are pushing on the walls of the lake up to every eight seconds, so that’s a big force on them. We had to translate a dynamic force study into English from the company in Spain and understand the maximum forces involved, so that we could make sure the walls can withstand anything that is thrown at them. We have even built up behind the walls with soil to give extra support. It took a lot of time, theory practice and patience to make sure we got it right.

We know that Hydrock is keen to encourage more women to consider a career in engineering. You ran a workshop for local school girls - can you tell us about this?

Alessia: We hosted a construction site visit to The Wave for a class of Year 9 girls from Castle School in Thornbury, as part of International Women in Engineering Day. I loved talking to the students about my role and getting them excited about the possibilities a career in engineering could offer. This project is interesting as there are quite a number of women involved – including a group of female engineers at Wavegarden in Spain. It’s great to work collaboratively with them.

Jessye: It was great to give the girls my personal insight into working as a structural engineer, explain what inspired me and hopefully help them understand the scope of the role. I hope we convinced some of them to choose STEM subjects as part of their further studies.

Do you surf and will we see you in the waves when it opens?

Alessia: I’m not a surfer – yet! I will definitely have a go and I’ll be there to support my line manager, Phil, who is a surfer - go, Phil, go!

Jessye: Ha! No, I’m not a surfer either, but I can’t wait to give it a go at the Wave. I’m also really looking forward to having a drink on the terrace outside the clubhouse that I’ve helped design!