Senior Vice President Sam Tinsley may be new to Thornton Tomasetti, but he has a long history with our Boston office. Sam, who joined the Structural Engineering practice in December, served two stints with Weidlinger Associates, which merged with the firm in 2015, for a total of more than 20 years. Now he’s back and ready to get to work.
A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Sam started his career designing bridges and aviation hangars with the state department of transportation. After relocating to Massachusetts for graduate school, he spent a few years as a project engineer at a small consulting firm doing building design before moving to Weidlinger in 1983. “Back in the early 1980s, Weidlinger was involved in a lot of the large development projects going on in Boston,” he said. “I would see the firm’s name at construction sites all around the city. I really wanted to develop a career in building design, and Weidlinger seemed to be in the thick of things.”
For the next seven years, he honed his design skills with residential and commercial work as well as some higher education projects at Harvard University. “There was an incredible diversity of work in the office, which allowed younger staff to gain experience on many different types of structures,” Sam said. In 1990, he left to join a small DBE (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise) firm, where he added some performing arts centers and transportation projects, like the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, to his resume.
By the mid-1990s, Sam was back at Weidlinger, working with his mentor Steve Varga. “Steve was one of those guys who could come up with really innovative solutions to architectural problems. He was on a different level than everyone else,” Sam said. “It was through Steve that I started working with high-design architects, which I loved.” Some of his projects during this period include the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece, the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Springfield, Massachusetts, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, and The Oculus, the World Trade Center transit hub in New York City designed by architect Santiago Calatrava. “I spent nearly three years on that project,” he said. “I was part of the team that would travel to New York every Monday and back to Boston on Friday night.”
Sam transitioned from high design to long-span structures when he joined AECOM in 2014. He worked on sports projects, like the addition to the Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium at Kansas State University, before shifting over to transportation work, like the Riyadh Metro light rail project in Saudi Arabia, and aviation projects, such as the renovation and expansion of Logan Airport’s terminals B and E in Boston.
Recently, Sam talked about joining Thornton Tomasetti and this next phase of his career as well as how the Boston office is positioned for growth.
What brings you back to the Boston office?
When AECOM acquired URS in 2014, many of the transportation projects shifted to the Columbus, Ohio, office. We had a good group in Boston, highly skilled in Revit and 3D modeling, but it became difficult to get involved in projects due to overlapping capabilities. I learned a lot from my experience at AECOM, but it was time for me to move on. I then joined Simpson, Gumpertz and Heger, where I was doing forensic engineering and expert reports. I’m a design engineer, and it really wasn’t what I wanted to do. I was playing golf with Peter Quigley one weekend, and he told me about how busy the Boston office was and how they needed experienced design staff. I broached the subject with Peter and here I am.
How does it feel to be back?
It feels great. I have a lot of good friends here, and it is nice to be part of the team again. Even though Thornton Tomasetti is a 1,200-plus person firm, it has a small firm feel and I like that. And Thornton Tomasetti brings to the table some amazing technical resources, like integrated building information modeling with Tekla. Being able to leverage this capability will open up a number of opportunities for us in the Boston market, especially with the larger projects.
What will you be doing?
As a leader in the Structural Engineering practice, I will be working directly with technical staff on projects, mostly in terms of providing overall direction and contract document production. I’ll also be involved in the professional development of younger staff and business development.
Sam spent time in Saudi Arabia working on the Riyadh Metro project, for which he managed a team of approximately 40 engineers.
What are your areas of specialization?
I have a well-rounded engineering background, with considerable experience in long-span structures as well as higher education, healthcare and transportation work. Those are very active market sectors in the Boston region, and I’m familiar with the technical challenges associated with those types of projects. There are also quite a few aviation facilities in my portfolio, including several projects with Massport (Massachusetts Port Authority), such as Logan Airport’s Terminal E. Our office is currently teaming up with the architects at AECOM on the pursuit of a $450-million expansion of that terminal, and if successful, I will be working again with the same team that did the original design. I also have a fair amount of experience handling large projects. For the Riyadh Metro project, I had a team of some 40 engineers in multiple offices designing 11 deep underground stations and several traffic decks. It takes a good deal of organization and skill to keep a project of that size on track and on budget.
Do you see any particular challenges or opportunities for the Structural Engineering practice in Boston?
In terms of opportunities, I’d like to see this office expand to include more modeling tools. The Boston office is like a lot of other Thornton Tomasetti locations in that we have a strong base in building information modeling, with Revit and 3D design, but there are those with Tekla capabilities in house. If we move forward with some of the larger aviation and healthcare projects, it would be nice to grow that expertise here. The AEC industry is very competitive in Boston and oftentimes is fee driven. The challenge is making sure our clients understand the value BIM can bring to a project, particularly in terms of schedule and budget. There is a lot of private developer work in this region and having advanced modeling capabilities could help us win more of it.
What led you to a career in the AEC industry?
When I started college, I enrolled in the school of liberal arts, but I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. After a few semesters, I was still undecided, and rather than continuing along without a direction, I took some time off. I always had an interest in building design and construction, so I reapplied to the school of engineering. From the very beginning, it was a good fit. When I saw my first project completed and there was a tangible product of all my hard work, it was then that I knew I wanted a career in structural design.
One of Sam’s favorite pastimes is to travel. Here he is with his daughter in Dubrovnik, Croatia, in summer 2016.
What aspects of the job do you enjoy most?
I really like the early stages of a project and being part of the team that influences a building’s design. During my career, I have been fortunate to have participated in design charrettes for many interesting projects, such as the National Aquarium. It is so rewarding to be able to contribute to how a building will look. Being involved in the conception of a design and then working with the technical team to make it happen is the best of all possible worlds.
Are there any industry topics or trends that interest you?
The use of 3D printing technology in building construction is an interesting idea. While I was at SGH, we developed some fittings for a glass wall support using 3D printing. These were unique custom fittings that probably could have only been created using 3D printing technology.
What do you do in your spare time?
I like to go hiking in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. They are close by and you can go up and back in a day. I used to go skiing every winter, but haven’t done so in a while. Maybe this year I’ll get back on the mountain—at least for a weekend. I am also a fan of indie movies and the performing arts. And as I mentioned earlier, I like to try to play golf on weekends.
Speaking of golf, who won the game? You or Peter?
I think I did. We left the scorecard in the golf cart, so no one really knows for sure. Still, it was a good day all the way around.
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