Interview with Jan Blackhall
Jan describes his reasons for choosing civil engineering as a career. He was excited by an advertisement for a position on the Central Milton Keynes team: ‘That sounded absolutely what I wanted to do… designing a new city from scratch’. His first tasks were ‘checking the implications of implementing the grid’ in three dimensions, and: ‘what do you do with all the dirt when you’ve dug it out?’ He describes assessing the lie of the land and how to deal with the challenges posed by the proposed layout; for example the boulevards were raised above the car parks and thus the car parks needed to be drained: ‘…what we had to do was engineer slight ripples in the car park … sufficient just to get the water into the gullies, into the drains and away to Willen Lake’. Drainage was a key issue in other areas: for example, the pit drainage system for the London plane trees. Highway assets (signs, etc.), Jan says, ‘had to perform not only for motorists but also for the pedestrian and the junctions, the sight lines, the markings, direction signage, traffic signals and all that regulatory equipment needed to be integrated in’.
Jan talks of the opportunities CMK gave him. He learnt by ‘absorption’, discussion, research, and quite a lot of visits to suppliers. He describes the working practices in the multi-disciplinary CMK team and how they reached solutions to engineering challenges. He describes the different roles of structural, civil and design engineers, and how each would be involved in a project. As an engineer in CMK, he is proudest of ‘… the integration of everything that brings a city centre together. …What is really clever is the things that you don’t see. … within the areas of the porte-cochères, are all the service utility access points into the buildings adjacent …they are easily accessible.
After the Shopping Building, Jan moved on to be lead civil engineer for the Central station, where they had to fill a valley to fill in front of the station. He was also lead civil engineer for the Food Centre and CBX. Talking of current changes in CMK, Jan says: ‘I am uncomfortable with the concept that pedestrians will be crossing major road junctions at grade. But …cities do evolve in the world … the population to which you bequeath this asset will have the rights to review it’ … But he says: ‘There is a significance in the layout and setting of the infrastructure … I think it’s very, very important that that’s preserved’.