This month we catch up with Dr Charles Clifton who is an Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Auckland.

Charles is a Fellow of Engineering New Zealand and a member of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering, a member of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers and a member of the Structural Engineering Society of New Zealand.

What is your role at the University of Auckland?

I am an expert in steel and composite steel/concrete design and building behaviour, especially under severe events of earthquake and fire. My role is teaching and research in that area. Research ranges from developing more resilient structural earthquake solutions to new systems for pallet racking systems, to ultralight-weight concrete, to response of composite floors in severe fires. Design ranges from general steel design, to fire engineering solutions for steel structures, to design of portal frames and many more.

Why did you decide to become an academic?

I have always enjoyed developing new things, new design procedures and teaching others in engineering matters. When I set up the HERA Structural Division in 1983, my job description was to build the technical foundation to grow the market share for steel, with a focus on multi-storey construction. At that time, the market share for structural steel in multi-storey was near zero, and there were many reasons people didn’t use steel. I had to develop suitable, cost-effective solutions to counter these reasons. That led me into research into steel and composite steel/concrete buildings in severe earthquake, severe fire and durability.

What is the most rewarding part of being an academic?

The teaching of new students and being with them at the start of their engineering careers and also the opportunity to get research items done.

What is your favourite paper that you teach and why?

Civil 313 Structures and Design 3. Because it is the first time I introduce steel design to the students and to see most of them take up, understand and apply the concepts.

Charles Clifton

Charles Clifton

Why are you a member of Engineering New Zealand?

Up until recently it has been because of the specific technical groups SESOC and NZSEE, to which I have made a significant contribution over many years, including being one of the SESOC founding members and first editor of the SESOC Journal. I have had very little interaction with other parts of Engineering New Zealand, but that has been more due to pressure of work, first at HERA and now at the University of Auckland, leaving me with no time for more in-depth involvement. This unfortunately is likely to continue; however, the parent body is becoming increasingly important in today’s world as engineering needs strong leadership. I have also encouraged my students to be student members of Engineering New Zealand.

How do you engage with Engineering New Zealand?

Not as much as I can or should. Mostly through the technical groups.

How do you contribute to the Society of Earthquake Engineers, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers and the Structural Engineering Society of New Zealand?

Through the Management Committee for the NZSEE and for the others providing technical advice when asked for or needed. Also, representation on Standards and design guide production groups.

What is the value of being a member of these societies?

Keeping up with latest trends and developments, and both giving and receiving technical information.

At Engineering New Zealand each staff member has their own Engineering Envy – a feat of engineering that inspires them or has personal significance to them. It’s a great way to get people talking about engineering. What would your Engineering Envy be?

Mine is the work of my two engineering heroes – the late Bob Park and the late Tom Paulay. Bob was instrumental in getting me the job at HERA. 

What do you do in your spare time?

Too much work because it is enjoyable and hard to say no! Also gardening and looking after the house plus travelling in conjunction with conferences. We (Linda and I) are on sabbatical the second half of this year and looking forward to living in Italy and the United States for a while.