Career path: StructureMode founding director Geoff Morrow

Geoff Morrow, StructureMode

If you can’t find the right firm for you, start your own advises structural engineer and sculptor Geoff Morrow.

Why did you decide to go into engineering/infrastructure? 

I always loved art and science at school and so was attracted by both architecture and structural engineering.  My father was an Electrical Engineer and he taught me a lot, igniting my interest and understanding of how things around me worked - this passion has never faded. 

What did you study? How did that lead to this career?

At school I had to choose my future career but was torn between architecture and structural engineering.  I decided that structural engineering would put me in an architectural environment but also suited my practical skills and love of science.  I studied civil engineering at Queen’s University Belfast.

I always wished to combine my love of art and science more, which was and is a driving force behind StructureMode.  We get more involved in the design process, understanding what the architect wants to achieve and striving to make things better.

Who was your first employer and why?

My first employer was a one-man-band in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland.  It was 1994 and there was no work around - recession!  However, unexpectedly this job turned out to be perfect for me.  I gained wonderful experience in my first 12 months, designing a new steel portal frame building with piled foundations and RC suspended slab, a culvert to divert a river plus the highways.  I also did the site setting out using a manual theodolite and even had to teach the builder how to fix the reinforcement!  Luckily I remembered this from a training course I had attended.

After this I moved to London and have loved it from day one.

CV highlights?

I graduated in 1994, moved to London in 1996, passed my IStructE exam in 1998, director at Fluid Structures in 2002 then left to start StructureMode in 2007.

I’m really excited about the future of StructureMode because every year is better than the last and now things are really starting to fall into place.

Why did you decide to set up your own business?

I have always wanted to do things differently, practise structural engineering differently.  I couldn’t find a practice that matched what I was looking for and so decided to create my own.

Did you have a career plan? How has reality panned out against that plan?

I can’t say I planned everything out, but I’ve always had a clear vision of how I wanted things to be, and I believe that we are really getting there now.


What is special about StructureMode? 

StructureMode is passionate about good design in all its forms.  We love to create efficient and beautiful structures that are durable, flexible and sustainable.  To do this we carry out thorough and accurate analysis, research new materials, alternative structural typologies and new analysis methods.  We also invest in sophisticated design tools and learn how to use the latest software and technological developments. We love to get involved in the design process to help rationalise or optimise things and if possible introduce alternative solutions that might not have been considered.

What other interests do you have and do they meld with your career?

I am also an abstract sculptor working mainly in stoneware and steel.  I have studied sculpture at Morley College in the evenings for the last four years. 

We have design workshops at StructureMode which is encouraging everyone to think in a more sculptural way and this has fed into several projects.  It began with the aluminium dome in 2009 then the Luz acrylic pyramid for Burning Man last year and currently a reciprocal timber-framed roof for a small extension in London.

Everyone in StructureMode has something else to offer, other than being fantastic Engineers.  A broad range of skills including architecture, blacksmithing, screen printing, photography and graphic design.  We bring aspects of all our skills into the services we offer.

Describe your job

I am the founding and as yet sole director of StructureMode.  I organise almost everything from being technical guru on all our projects to making sure our invoices are paid and making sure the kitchen is tidy.  Most importantly I aim bring in the right amount of work to feed the machine.  Crucially important to that is marketing the practice, strategising its future direction and the way to get there.  I have delegated as may things to my wonderful and adaptable engineers, who answer the phones, order office supplies, organise the cleaner and manage the petty cash box.  I have outsourced some things, including book-keeping, accountancy and I have an adviser to keep me right on the HR side of things.

It is going to be a brave new world from this month onwards, when my first studio manager and PA will be joining us!

Who has had the most influence over your career and why?

Peter Rice (of course) and Eladio Dieste.  They were both visionary engineers who had an innate understanding of structures and how they worked, as well as having advanced skills in how to analyse them scientifically.

What about work gets you interested, keeps you interested?

Our work keeps changing and so it remains challenging and rewarding.  We work in both private and social residential sectors, retail, commercial, entertainment and arts structures.

We also do a lot of humanitarian work with an architectural charity called Orkidstudio.  This has given us the opportunity to work in very challenging environments with severely limited resources and unskilled labour.  This drives us to develop innovative designs that use unusual materials and are detailed in a way that they are simple to build.  This work is very rewarding on so many different levels.  Maybe we will work on a school in the UK soon too!

What makes you most happy in your career?

I love the combination of creativity, innovation and scientific design, and the fact we are able to make a difference.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Read more books!

What is the one thing that has been fundamental to your career?

My dad and my wife - can I have two things?

What is the best thing so far in your career?

Starting StructureMode.