One Day as an Engineer: Daniel Burke

A project to remember: the National Veterans Memorial and Museum

When we ask our engineers what they find particularly fascinating about their work, most of them mention their achievement in a once-in-a-lifetime project. Daniel “Dan” Burke, Principal Engineer at PERI USA, feels the same way for the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus, Ohio. He reveals to us why this special project was so memorable for him and what challenges he faced during the construction.

With a passion for practical results, Dan found his calling in civil engineering. However, his path into the world of engineering was not a conventional one. After completing his bachelor's degree in physics, he yearned for a profession where he could experience the physical calculations of his efforts. Civil engineering offered the perfect blend of both, theoretical knowledge, and practical application, allowing him to see how his work has a tangible impact on the structures that shape cityscapes. “Now, every time I drive through my hometown Chicago and see a building I was involved in, I say: oh, that was me,” says Dan and continues: “Every project, every building, carries a piece of me within it. That’s why I love what I’m doing so much.”

Among Dan’s many achievements, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus, Ohio, is the project that stands out as a proof of his expertise and determination. Why this one in particular? Because he quickly transitioned from a supporting role to a Lead Engineer. “It was my second year at PERI. In the beginning, I thought I would just help out, but destiny had other plans. They needed a Lead Engineer who knew how to make 3D models for this special building. As I have done a good job right from the start and have always worked closely with our clients, my Engineering Manager at the time, saw me in this role,” says Dan. It was not only his first major project, but also a building that turned out to be very complex and unique.

The curved shape with its openings made it impossible to reuse our panels. We therefore made customised panels for each section.
Over 9,000 m² of VARIO GT 24 girder wall formwork was necessary to shape the curved walls of the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus, Ohio, in the USA.

How Dan tackled up to 400 openings and a constant change in structure with creative formwork solutions

The building consists of only curved structural arches which form three big concrete rings, overlapping each other. This creates up to 400 different openings and had to be considered in the formwork designs. 18-metre-high walls made the task no easier. But the biggest challenge of all was the constant change in structure. “We always had to look at the building from a new perspective for each section and see how we could tackle the next area because the ever-changing geometry didn’t allow the reuse of any panels,” our engineer explains.  

With a complicated architecture that leaves no room for error, the project demanded creative solutions and constant dedication to bring the construction forward – both qualities Dan already owned. He went to Columbus for 6 months to work side by side with our client Baker Construction. “During this intensive phase, I was on the construction site almost every day, either creating essential 3D formwork models on my laptop or talking to our client and partners,” Dan says.

“One of my biggest learnings in making the construction a success was to support our client through all phases of the project.”
“One of my biggest learnings in making the construction a success was to support our client through all phases of the project.”
Daniel Burke
Principal Engineer, PERI USA
“One of my biggest learnings in making the construction a success was to support our client through all phases of the project.”

Due to the curved walls and the high exposed concrete requirements, our VARIO 24 girder wall formwork was one of those solutions, supported with our PERI UP shoring. In addition, 15-metre-high panels were used for the walls and had to be kept stable during concreting. For static challenges like these, Dan's knowledge of physics came in handy. He decided to use our RCS rail climbing system which was connected to the high panels and anchored to the ground. This made it possible to pour concrete at greater heights without the panels falling down.

Individual cut-outs not only make the building an eye-catcher but were also sophisticated.
3D designs were necessary to formwork the curved shape and the 400 individual cut-outs.

When our client told us that we were probably the only formwork company who could make the project work

Along with creating the 3D models, Dan's role went beyond the traditional engineering tasks. He found himself wearing multiple hats – from coordinating the trucks and shipping materials to mentoring his colleagues. “Regarding the different sections which had to be considered differently, it became clear that I couldn’t do the work all by myself. Since I was the one who knew how to formwork this building, I have shared my knowledge with our engineering team who also worked on the project. That way, we could be more efficient,” says the 33-year-old. While his colleagues helped him with the designs, Dan could concentrate on other important things on site. One of them was helping the assembly team by giving tips on how to use our systems. That made assembly even quicker and easier. Also, he was the person who coordinated and organised every formwork related job on the spot.

This focus on connecting all the dots required a lot of communication. “Instead of offering a solution and leaving the client to it, I worked hand in hand with Baker Construction who had a vision but needed our expertise to bring it to life. Always being in close dialogue and a partner throughout the whole project made all the difference,” Dan emphasises. Just as important was the communication within the PERI project team. The project became a collaborative effort, with each member of the team contributing their expertise to overcome obstacles and make it a success. So, both internal and external communication was built on trust and mutual understanding. “The best proof was provided by our client himself when he told us that we were probably the only formwork company that could have constructed and supplied the forms to them,” he says.

Two construction companies had turned down the project before Baker Construction accepted the challenge. For many of those involved in the project – including Dan – it was one of the most exciting structures they had ever worked on.

A once-in-a-lifetime project: not the end, but the beginning for more complex buildings

Through months of dedication and hard work, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum began to take shape, standing as a testament to the collective efforts of everyone involved. “The project was a big deal for me and the reason why I worked on other subsequent tricky structures like the Seattle Aquarium. For years, my colleagues were annoyed because I kept talking about this project. But the great thing was that people took note of what I had achieved,” he reflects. “And as I look back on those 18 months, I'm filled with pride. Pride in what we've achieved together, and pride in knowing that our work will leave a lasting impact on generations to come.”

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