A conversation with Emeritus Professor Adrian Page

A conversation with Emeritus Professor Adrian Page

Emeritus Professor Adrian Page has much to share about his work in civil-structural engineering, particularly to do with his work on masonry thermal efficiency.

Can you please give us a brief introduction to yourself and your background?

I’m a civil engineer with a particular interest in structural design and analysis. I spent the first seven years of my career in professional practice, involved in the construction and design of buildings in Australia and overseas. I joined the University of Newcastle in 1971 as a lecturer in Civil Engineering, and in parallel with my teaching duties became involved in research and completed a PhD. I spent the next 35 years as an academic, and developing a real interest in the behaviour of masonry structures, an area which surprisingly was not well understood. Gradually I developed an active masonry research group, which has been very successful in attracting research money and industry support. On the practical side we’ve done a lot of building product development, and have also been heavily involved in the development and preparation of Australian standards for masonry structures. I retired in 2006, but as an Emeritus Professor I am still quite an active researcher.

What study have you undertaken? What qualifications have you received?

I studied for my undergraduate degree as a part-time student. I would work during the day as a Cadet Engineer with the local water authority, and attend lectures at night. This was hard work but an excellent way of obtaining engineering experience. I subsequently obtained my ASTC (with credit) in 1963 (Associate of Sydney Technical College), and my Bachelor of Engineering (with honours) from the University of NSW in 1965. I later obtained my Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Newcastle in 1977.

What other research interests do you have?

About nine years ago the brick industry became interested in the thermal performance of housing, because bricks in housing are a large portion of their market. The industry was keen to ensure that masonry walling’s contribution to the energy efficiency of houses was recognised, by taking into account the inherent benefits of the thermal mass of masonry in solar/passive design. As a result, the scope of our research activity expanded from the structures/materials area to include this aspect of building science.

As part of my more applied research activity, I have also been heavily involved in the preparation of masonry codes and standards, and I still Chair the Australian Standard Code Committee for Masonry Structures. This was of particular relevance after the 1989 Newcastle earthquake, when many masonry structures were damaged as the result of poor design and construction practices. Our group was involved in various aspects of research and code development following this event.

Over the years I have also served in a number of senior administrative roles in the University, including periods as Head of the Department, Dean of Engineering, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Engineering and Built Environment) and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research).

What are your interests outside of work?

I enjoy all forms of sport; I “attempt” to play golf, and also regularly walk and cycle. I also have grandchildren that I spoil, and I love to travel. Since two of my three children are currently working overseas, this provides a good opportunity for regular overseas trips.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

I think probably my earlier contributions on the constitutive modeling of masonry together with my more recent work in relation to the seismic performance of un-reinforced masonry. I have always tried to maintain a practical focus as I like to see genuine practical outcomes. More recently my work in the energy area is important because of the increasing emphasis on all aspects of sustainability.

My other contribution has been in relation to raising the profile and state of knowledge of masonry in Australia. The four main materials used in building are steel, concrete, timber and masonry. Steel and concrete have been extensively researched and are well understood. However masonry, and timber to some extent, are often considered to be a “non-structural material” and are not extensively covered in undergraduate engineering programs. To assist in this area, in collaboration with the brick industry we have prepared and distributed a masonry teaching package to all Australian universities.

What have been you main motivation(s) in pursuing your area of research?

I’ve always enjoyed engineering. I’m enthusiastic about creating things, seeing things evolve, and advancing knowledge. It’s fascinating and challenging, and I don’t consider it a chore at all. I guess that’s why I’m still relatively active even though I am retired!

What is the next step for you?

I want to see our work on the thermal performance housing come to fruition. I also want to make sure that there is a pool of good quality people in the field to make sure our research maintains its momentum.

You’ve mentioned your work with thermal housing; could you provide some more information on your work in this area?

We’re looking at developing design procedures for buildings which truly reflect the contribution of thermal mass from the effective use of masonry walling. By locating those in the right way and by using solar-passive design principles, we can significantly enhance the energy performance of the building. We can also minimise or even eliminate the need for any artificial heating or cooling, hence saving a lot of energy.

What kind of technologies or resources do you have at your disposal?

We have developed a thermal ‘hotbox,’ which measures the thermal resistance value, or R-value, of various wall materials. We also have four extensively instrumented thermal “housing modules” incorporating a range of walling types. This allows the response of real structures to actual weather conditions to be studied. Each module has 105 sensors that record every five minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These resources are unique to Australia, and provide us and the building and masonry industry, with a valuable data base.

What stage is your work up to?

We’ve been going for about eight years, and there is at least another two years of work before we produce the final results and recommendations. The bulk of the experimental work is complete, but now the emphasis is on the analysis and interpretation of the huge body of data.

What have been your greatest challenges in your work, and how were these overcome?

Just the logistical challenge of developing and operating the test modules, particularly in relation to their ongoing monitoring. The breadth and scope of the project means that it’s more of a challenge to focus on the really critical items because there are so many issues that need to be taken into account in terms of the environmental performance of the structures. I don’t think there’s anything that’s insurmountable, it’s just a matter of being systematic.

Who have you collaborated with in this work?

There has been significant collaboration in this work. The team itself involves staff from both Civil and Chemical Engineering, with the role of Professor Behdad Moghtaderi being particularly important. In the first half of the project there were significant contributions made by Dr Heber Sugo who has now been replaced by Dr Dariusz Alterman. Stuart Hands is our hands-on experimental person, and Trevor Moffiet is assisting us with the statistical analysis. Other important contributors have been Caimao Luo who has developed the NUMBERS thermal modeling software, as well as two PhD students and a Masters student. I should also acknowledge the Civil engineering technical staff who helped significantly during the construction phase of the project. Throughout the project there has also been on-going collaboration with Think Brick Australia.

How important is collaboration, with both your research collaborators and industry partners, in ensuring that the industry accepts new innovation?

It’s pivotal, it wouldn’t have happened otherwise. We have had three ARC linkage grants in partnership with Think Brick Australia. Without their support, we would not have had the funding or resources to carry out the project. Their involvement is also important in ensuring that the outcomes of the project are relevant to the “real world”.