The most predictable part of a day in the Forensics practice is its unpredictability. With the firm since 2005, Elisabeth serves as East region leader for the practice and specializes in structural analysis and design, investigations and the restoration of historic structures. She is also part of an in-house research and development team that program manages R&D ideas submitted by staff throughout the firm. As part of this initiative, she is involved in a project to adopt a new kind of tuned mass damper using technology developed by, and licensed from, NASA for rockets. The fluid-structure coupling device, which her team has named Hummingbird, is smaller and more efficient than traditional solid or liquid-tank dampers and is being installed at a new residential building in Brooklyn, New York.
All photos by Bess Adler/Thornton Tomasetti
Elisabeth’s workday begins by commuting from her home in the Upper West Side of Manhattan by bike to the firm’s 40 Wall St. office downtown – about a 35-minute ride.
“I thoroughly enjoy my morning bike commute,” Elisabeth said. “It’s the only truly quiet time in my day. I ride down the Hudson River, see the Statue of Liberty and arrive at work with a clear head. Depending on how fast I’m riding, the bike is often the quickest way to get to the office. And should an emergency arise, I’m above ground to take the call – and only a little out of breath.”
She has called New York City home for more than 20 years, and continues to be inspired by the city’s architecture and energy.
“I love working in Manhattan,” she said. “I think this city moves so quickly because everyone’s on the way to their next big idea. It’s a place of endless change and renewal, and it’s inspiring.” After a stop at her favorite coffee shop, she is ready to start the day.
Arriving at 40 Wall St., Elisabeth finds time to walk around the office and check in with the rest of the Forensics team. Here she talks with Viviana Vumbaca, a senior project director who is getting ready for her next bridge to evaluate, stadium to climb and inspect, or batch of data to process.
“Every day comes with new challenges, and being surrounded by amazing and talented people makes the process fun, the hard work worthwhile, and ensures a project’s success,” Elisabeth said. “Finding how to balance our varied and unpredictable workload in a way that complements the growth and development of the team is one of the most rewarding tasks we have.”
Elisabeth catches up with her boss, James Feuerborn, a senior principal and Wall Street office director. They discuss how the team is doing and what they could do better. “We review the financials, hiring choices, and talk about project and staffing challenges. It’s meetings like this that set the direction of the Forensics group in New York.”
On site in Brooklyn. Elisabeth is in the field a couple days per week, and is often able to visit several in the same day. Here she discusses the harmonic damper project with Principal Phillip Thompson (middle) of the Edinburgh office. Elisabeth has been working with our Scotland team to develop the damper and make it even more compact and efficient. Also pictured is Hans Utz, co-founder of The Combine. Thornton Tomasetti has been working with Hans as part of the firm’s TTWiiN effort to develop the fluid harmonic disrupter from a one-off specialty install into a product that any engineer can specify for any building. (Look for the Hummingbird damper in a vibration mitigation store near you!) Phill and Hans came to the site to take a look at the first commercial installation of the damper and assist with commissioning.
“Nothing compares to seeing a building or a construction site,” Elisabeth said. “Visiting with our clients, inspecting our structures, seeing how our drawings and concepts were realized – for me there’s nothing more exciting.”
Joined by project team members (from left) Phill, Senior Associate Marguerite Pinto, Senior Project Engineer Callum Norris, senior engineers Pierre Ghisbain and Sebastian Mendes (in back) and Hans, Elisabeth and the group check instrument readings to learn how well the system works. They use a low-noise data acquisition tool, which they’ve called the “big orange box” or “B.O.B.” for short, that can measure as little as zero G vibration. The results look good!
“Sebastian’s detailed designs, Pierre’s differential equation solvers, both of their hard physical work setting up the damper at the site as well as Marguerite’s big orange box and Callum’s pressure gauge wiring, which allowed us to validate the parameters of the system, is expertise that has led us to this successful stage of the project.”
With a hop on the subway, Elisabeth is back in Manhattan and at Columbia University where she teaches the Design of Large Scale Structures class with Thornton Tomasetti Founding Principal Richard Tomasetti, Senior Principal Eli Gottlieb and Façade Engineering practice Principal Hauke Jungjohann.
“We hope we’re showing the students a glimpse of what this amazing profession is like, how we put our structures together and the many opportunities for ongoing innovation,” Elisabeth said.
With all of the four adjunct professors from Thornton Tomasetti, the firm’s projects are bound to make their way into the students’ coursework. One of the final presentations was on what Shanghai Tower – now the tallest building in China, designed by our Pacific Rim team – would have been like if it was located in New York and had a different structural system.
When the workday ends, the mom shift starts. “Time to find dinner, share stories, wrangle homework, survive guitar practice, and get ready for the next day! I can shore a building, design a damper, speak convincingly to a room of experts and attorneys and still continually lose an argument with my daughter about the appropriate time to do homework,” Elisabeth said. She has two children. “Having kids is the most humbling, amazing and utterly ordinary part of my life.”
“I truly love my job. It’s fascinating,” Elisabeth said. “My colleagues and staff are inspiring, and we are valued. We see the change we make in the world and know why it’s important. I hope my kids find something that similarly inspires them.”
Follow these topics: