Quick Chat with a SMEC Chief Technical Principal
SMEC’s Alexandre Gomes has over 25 years' experience in the design and construction of large multidisciplinary tunnel and underground projects and geotechnical and geomechanical engineering. He is a recognised leader in underground engineering, having been involved in numerous major international projects. He has lived and worked in various countries and is proficient in English, Spanish, Portuguese and German.
What is your current job title and function?
I have recently joined SMEC in the position of Chief Technical Principal for Tunnels and Underground Infrastructure.
Why did you pursue a career in engineering?
I spring from a family of medical doctors and have always enjoyed physics and math. I ended up in civil engineering a little by chance, as I got accepted into the engineering course before medicine and then decided to stay in the career. Looking back, I made the right choice.
What is the most challenging or interesting project you’ve ever worked on?
Projects become a little like our babies, making it difficult to rank them or choose between them. But, if I had to choose only one project, I would pick one of my earliest ones in Metro Santiago, where I was the resident engineer and we had to underpass an old, sensitive bridge with a large tunnel section. Before the tunnel was sequentially excavated with side drifts, the bridge was underpinned with piles from within a pilot tunnel, with hydraulic jacks encased in these piles. During construction, the jacks were activated under my guidance at each tunnel excavation round to counterbalance the effects of ground relaxation. This section was successfully excavated with minor bridge deformation and within the acceptable limits.
What do you think is the most interesting or challenging aspect of tunnels and underground engineering?
Underground engineers must deal with the ground, which is both the medium and the main support element in almost any tunnel or underground infrastructure. The ground, whether soil, rock or a combination of both, is a complex material requiring engineers to have a more holistic approach to understanding ground behaviour and ground-structure interaction. On top of that, underground infrastructure solutions are applied for a variety of purposes, requiring projects to encompass a wide range of technical disciplines and subjects beyond those related to only ground and structural engineering.
Where and with which type of projects have you worked before coming to Australia?
I have been lucky enough to work in the design and construction of many multidisciplinary tunnel and underground projects from subway, railway and roadway to mining and hydro power. I have lived and worked in Europe, Asia and the Americas. In the last decade I have been based in Santiago, Chile, overseeing projects in Latin America.
What drew you to Australia – why were you interested in pursuing a career here?
It was a sum of factors, including the growth prospects of the Australian tunnelling market, the quality of life in Australia, the warmth of the people, and the exciting opportunity I was offered by SMEC to contribute to the company’s plans to grow its national and global tunnelling services.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
It is a continuous mission finding work/life balance. In the last few years, I have tried to keep a regular sporting activity (mainly soccer), read and spend time with my family and friends. I also enjoy dedicating some spare hours to music composition.
What is the best piece of advice your parents gave you?
Do things with passion.
Image: Alexandre Gomes, Engineering Institute Conference, São Paulo, Brazil, 2014.