Áine Brazil

Áine Brazil after she was conferred with the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Engineering at NUI Galway, pictured with Dr Jim Browne.

Galway native, Áine Brazil, helms biggest development in the US

A Galway native, now living and working with a top company in New York, was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by NUI Galway at a conferring ceremony last month. Áine Brazil, originally from Salthill, was conferred with a Degree of Doctor of Engineering (honoris causa).

In a career of over 30 years with Thornton Tomasetti, Áine has been responsible for the design and construction of high-rise buildings, air-rights projects with long-span transfer systems, and a mix of educational, institutional, healthcare and hospitality projects.

Currently, Áine is working on the largest private development project in the United States, the Hudson Yards Project on the west side of Manhattan, as well as a number of hospital and lab buildings – one of which is the River Building Laboratory, located at the Rockefeller University campus.

“Every day there are new challenges and New York City is a wonderful environment for structural engineers to have an impact on the skyline,” said Áine, reflecting on her career so far.

“I have had the opportunity to participate in amazing projects – many high rise and complex projects, with talented design teams and wonderful clients. The challenges of construction in a tight urban environment keep every day interesting.”

Áine has received many awards from business and real estate organisations and held leadership roles in structural and resiliency code development in New York City. She was also the first president of the Structural Engineers Association of New York.

She obtained her Bachelor of Engineering from NUI Galway and a Masters degree in Structural Engineering from Imperial College in London, but a Doctorate wasn’t originally on the cards.

“My career path led me into the structural engineering design world where a combination of analytical ability, practical application, appreciation of the architectural design and understanding of the client’s need all came together and allowed me to contribute to major projects,” she said.

“The path to obtaining a traditional doctorate (the hard way) requires a dedication to research that is more focused on a very specific narrower topic in the broader application of all aspects of one’s knowledge.”

But after 30 years of impressive, hard work, Áine’s career path did eventually lead her to a well-deserved honorary doctorate.

“When I first was notified, I was totally surprised that I would be considered for such an honour. I was especially thrilled because of the link between my family and UCG. My mother, Máire Brazil had worked in the bursar’s office for 44 years from 1932 to 1976,” she said.

“She and our father Pat Brazil instilled in all four of her children a respect for a college education. She would have loved for one of us to pursue a PhD back then, 35 to 40 years ago. So this was very special because it would have meant so much to her.”

Education – particularly in engineering – is extremely important to Áine’s family, with several members of the Brazil clan choosing engineering as their career.

“There have been many engineers in my family – starting with my mother’s brother Michael McDonagh, and since then we have more than a dozen engineers in our family; my brother Sean O’Breasail, my husband John Whelan, and cousins, nieces and spouses,” she said.

Áine’s 30-year career with Thornton Tomasetti has seen her lead the structural engineering team for the design of more than three million square feet of high-rise office development in New York City’s Times Square area.

“Our work is always done as a team. The people I work with – my colleagues, my partners and the young engineers are wonderful and talented,” she said.

“We all have a passion for what we do. I have had so much fun in my career that now my focus is to make sure that many more young women have the same opportunities that I had to enjoy a career in structural engineering.

“I am delighted that two of my nieces, Áine Ní Bhreasail and Bairbre O’Breasail pursued careers in civil engineering. Áine received her PhD in Imperial College London last year and Bairbre has been working in Dubai for over eight years.”

But after 30 years in New York, Áine has never forgotten where she came from. A second-level education in Salerno followed by a number of years in NUI Galway provided her with a “tremendous start” to her career as a structural engineer.

“Professor Declan O’Keefe told us that we, his students, could do anything we wanted. He gave us the confidence to pursue careers in all different areas of engineering and management,” she said.

“UCG, as we called it, has grown tremendously – almost fourfold since I graduated with my engineering degree. It has also developed into an internationally-respected institution, especially in several specialities in the areas of marine environmental, informatics and bio-medical for which the university is world-renowned and they have strong collaborations with industry.

“But I understand that the student experience is still a big plus in Galway, as it always has been.”

Aine and her husband John , also a principal in a structural engineering firm in New York, settled in New York City in 1982 – attracted by the opportunities to design challenging projects.

And the big city life of New York has allowed Áine to thrive and succeed, rather than get lost in the masses, and has provided her with opportunities that her home town could not.

“Relatively speaking, Galway is a small city with a vibrant, compact centre. New York attracted me first with its vibrancy, diversity, friendliness. The large immigrant population makes for a city that is always buzzing with activity and this translates itself into the construction community also,” she said.

“Considering its physical size and the population, the building industry community feels relatively small. I love that people are so direct – you always know where you stand.

“However, it is still wonderful to visit Galway.”

To learn more about Áine’s work with Thornton Tomasetti, visit www.thorntontomasetti.com.

Originally published in The Connacht Tribune, July 2015.

Written by Jessica Thompson