An old head on young shoulders

3 Feb , 2023  

Robert Ralph is a 26-year-old senior project engineer within the Urbanism team in Ethos Engineering who has been shortlisted for Designer of the Year at the 2022 Irish Construction Industry Awards. He was the lead engineer on the Distillers Building in Smithfield, Google Boland’s Quay and Focus Ireland’s Dublin HQ.

Having graduated with a first-class BEng (Hons) in Building Services from DIT Bolton Street, Robert joined Ethos as a design engineer four years ago. He quickly became an important team member in a variety of commercial office (both fit-out and shell and core), residential and student accommodation projects in Ireland.

Initially, the young engineer’s role focused on the technical design of building services, while working alongside senior engineers and directors. However, his career progression and ability soon meant he was responsible for the lead mechanical design across numerous projects as well as taking on the overall project lead for Ethos on several of these projects. Robert rose through the engineering ranks quickly and his role accelerated from design engineer to project engineer, and then to senior engineer after just two years with the company.

“I worked as an intern with Ethos before rejoining them as a design engineer upon graduating from Bolton Street,” he explains.

“Ethos have been very supportive from the first day I walked through the door. I would like to thank Greg Hayden (CEO), Paul Tighe (director) and Gavin Murphy (director) for all the support and encouragement they have given me.

“To be nominated for an Irish Construction Industry Award is a tremendous honour which reflects well on the entire Ethos team. As lead engineer on projects such as the Distillers Building and Google Boland’s Quay, I’m the face that people see, but it’s really down to the team around me. It’s a real team effort.”

Robert is a highly-regarded technical expert and problem-solver within Ethos and is often consulted by engineers throughout the company on issues and challenges. He is also involved with the quality review of projects at various stage-gates before deliverables are issued outside of the office. Robert is known for encouraging the development of junior engineers.

He regularly holds technical internal presentations on key topics and shares his lessons learnt with the wider team to ensure issues aren’t repeated in the future. The affable Dubliner has also been involved in mentoring engineers which has involved regular check-ins, and helps in identifying potential opportunities for growth and development.

Robert is very keen to give back to society, in particular to the homelessness crisis in Ireland. He volunteered for and was responsible for the delivery of several pro-bono projects in conjunction with Focus Ireland and Dublin Simon Community. These projects enabled the charities to redirect funds towards their efforts to end homelessness. He is awaiting the results of his MSc in Building Services Management from Brunel University London. Robert is also in the process of attaining Chartership through Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) and plans to submit his application this autumn.

Robert functioned as the lead mechanical engineer and overall project lead for Ethos Engineering on the Distillers Building, a 23,000 sq. m. commercial office development in Smithfield, Dublin 7. It consists of an eight-storey building, designed for multi-tenant letting per floor with multiple retail offerings on ground floor as well as a double basement. The building has been pre-let on a long-term lease to the OPW by the landlord.

The site is located directly beside the Smithfield Luas stop and overlooking the Smithfield Marketplace. As part of the construction, the original Irish Distillers Building was demolished with the historic elevation along Bow Street being retained and incorporated into the design. The overall contract value was approximately €65 million, with the building services sub-contract valued at €8.5 million. The project reached practical completion in July 2022.

Due to the historic elements of the original Irish Distillers Building on the site, coupled with the other historic and residential buildings in proximity, the new development was heavily conditioned by the Planning Authority with a particular emphasis on restricting the extent and height of any roof plant space. As a result, there was a significant amount of the building services plant located within the double basement, which created numerous coordination challenges for the services distribution as well as the location of the central plant.

Robert’s knowledge of emerging technologies was key in this, as his designs incorporated packaged AHUs complete with thermal wheels and integrated heat pumps, thus removing the need for large pipework to be routed within the basement to each AHU and also reducing the size of the heating and chilled water systems required to service the building. This reduction was also part of Robert’s strategy to minimise the capacity required for the rooftop multifunction heat pump chillers due to the extremely limited roof plant space. The Distillers Building has the distinction of being one of the first of its size to be classified as an NZEB building.

One of Robert’s standout achievements from the past year has been his work on Google Boland’s Quay campus in Barrow Street, Dublin. The campus consists of two large office towers (circa 20,000 sq. m., 12 and 13 stories in each), a residential tower, five historic listed buildings and an external landscape, all above three levels of basement. Robert’s role has been project lead and lead mechanical engineer across the entire campus. The construction stage of the project has commenced, with a phased completion, building by building, planned across 2023 with the overall campus completion in early 2024.

The fit-out of the two commercial office towers included several food and beverage offerings, commercial grade kitchens, conference centre spaces, a gym, a variety of meeting rooms as well as event spaces and workshop spaces. There are also two link bridges being constructed between the towers at levels 4 and 11. In addition, the fit-out includes the provision of gender-neutral toilets within each tower. The project also consists of several retail units, offering the level of fit-out ranging from enhanced grey-box to a CAT-A fit-out.

A significant challenge was the coordination between various design teams and client direct consultants. While the same firms were responsible for the overall delivery of the campus, there were separate teams assigned to each element. This meant that there were two architectural teams, two civil / structural teams and two project management teams. On top of this, there was a specialist interior lighting consultant, a catering consultant and landscape architects appointed as part of the project. The client direct consultants included IT, security and AV consultants.

Robert overcame these challenges by working closely with all the members of the design teams and understanding their individual requirements for the best commercially viable design solution.

Focus Ireland’s head office in Dublin was fully refurbished in July 2021 and included a major strip-out of the existing redundant services along with the new CAT-B fit-out works. The fit-out incorporated modern building services and control systems to provide Focus Ireland with a highly functional and energy-efficient building.

The entire project was completed on a pro-bono nature by the design team and contractors, with all the necessary materials and fittings either being donated by various suppliers or recycled products from other projects that would otherwise have gone straight to landfill.

Functioning as the lead mechanical engineer, a key feature of Robert’s work was the flexible and collaborative approach he took on the project. As it was relying on recycled materials and donations, his design had to be flexible to work with the available components while maintaining a high quality of comfort. He was also very diligent in reviewing the proposed equipment and materials from contractors to ensure that in no way were the functions or efficiency of operations of the M&E systems been compromised by reusing components. The award-winning project achieved a 35% reduction in embedded carbon emissions thanks to the recycled materials and components installed.

Robert is also the lead mechanical engineer and overall project lead for Ethos Engineering on the Google Flour Mills, a 2,300 sq. m. commercial office fit-out of a historic listed building on Barrow Street which is located on the same site as the Boland’s Quay campus but is distinctly separate, with separate design teams and contractors.

With offices in Dublin and Galway, these are exciting times for Ethos Engineering who deliver exceptional service to their clients and their communities. ‘Engineering Wow’, the company has also been nominated for Consultancy of the Year and Engineering Firm of the Year at the 2022 Irish Construction Industry Awards, and was recently named as Best Organisation to Work for and Engineering Practice of the Year at the 2022 Irish Building & Design Awards.

Ethos Engineering Ltd

Penthouse Suite,

Apex Business Centre,

Blackthorn Road,


Dublin 18 DH76.

Telephone: +353 (0)1 293 2220

Email: [email protected]

Web: www.ethoseng.ie

This article was published in Building Ireland Magazine, January 2023, Vol 9 No 1