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Engineering world authority honoured for lifetime work

Alumnus recognised for global contributions to engineering
Exceptional lifetime contributions to the field of geotechnical engineering have earned retired School of Civil Engineering Emeritus Professor Harry Poulos top honours on the international stage.
Harry Poulos

Emeritus Professor Harry Poulos AM's notable global contribution to the science and practice of engineering has seen the world authority on soil behaviour and pile foundations named Engineers Australia's Peter Nicol Russell Career Achievement Memorial Award recipient for 2020. 

It is the latest recognition for the University of Sydney alumnus, who was previously named the Outstanding Project and Leaders award winner in design by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2017.

Both achievements deservedly acknowledge his work in developing new methods for designing piled raft foundations, has helped shape and transform the skylines of cities across the globe.

Poulos' methods in Dubai alone gave rise to the Burj Al Arab, the Emirates Twin Towers, and most notably the Burj Khalifa – the world's tallest building – where he and his team peer reviewed the foundation design.

Poulos has also worked on such projects as the Incheon 151 Tower in South Korea, numerous residential towers in Hong Kong, and Melbourne's ever-sprawling Docklands Project.

Most recently, he provided his expertise to the foundational design of the Crown Sydney tower development within Sydney's flourishing Barangaroo precinct.

"When I visit Dubai now and look at it, it's always a source of pride and achievement knowing that I had a little bit to do with that building," said Professor Poulos.

"I have been rather fortunate to be involved in these prominent types of buildings – it is very satisfying knowing that I had something to do with each one.

"The role in the Burj Khalifa was significant as we essentially had to verify the foundation design for the main designers who were from the UK, and with whom we collaborated closely.

"There are particular problems associated with the ground conditions there and because I had done research into those types of ground conditions, my associates and I were called upon to be involved."

Harry Poulos

The association of the Katoomba–born Poulos with the University commenced 60 years ago in 1957 as a student, when he completed both a Bachelor of Engineering (1961) and his PhD (1965) for which he focused on shallow soil foundations and research into soft soil under the tutelage of the late Professor Edward 'Ted' Davis.

He soon rose through the ranks as an academic at the University, initially as a Lecturer (1965) until earning the title of Professor in 1982. This period also saw Poulos co-author two pivotal works in pile foundations alongside Davis: Elastic Solutions in Soil and Rock Mechanics, published in 1974, and Pile Foundation Analysis and Design in 1980.

Poulos later transitioned into consultancy where he commenced his long tenure with the Coffey Group in 1989. This new career path saw him hold numerous leadership roles within the company as he began shaping skylines the world over.

It also brought upon a number of national accolades, including being named the Australian Civil Engineer of the Year in 2003.

"The University played an important role in my development as an engineer, as it has for many others since the establishment of engineering in 1883," said Professor Poulos.

"I did not quite know where my studies would lead me but I am glad to have gravitated towards the area of deep foundations and to be mentored by the likes of the great Professor Davis.

"The important theoretical knowledge gained has allowed me to confront and solve different practical problems throughout my career and I have enjoyed being able to contribute to some landmark projects.

"Working with Coffey has allowed me the opportunity to collaborate with very talented engineers and to show that remarkable outcomes can be achieved when talented people collaborate."

Poulos was ultimately awarded the title 'Emeritus Professor' by the University upon his retirement from the Faculty of Engineering in 2002.

This article was updated on 10 November 2020.

19 May 2017

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