Jonathan is a chartered structural engineer (CEng MICE) and certified passive house designer (CEPH) with over a decade of experience in residential and commercial construction in the UK. He has worked internationally on large civil and structural engineering projects and specialises in sustainable design. He first became aware of Engineers Without Borders UK when he joined a Chapter as a student and remains involved by judging Design Challenges and mentoring young engineers.

Describe your background and how DASH came about

I was a member of an Engineers Without Borders UK chapter at Newcastle University – but I was one of the most laid back members! After graduation, I worked internationally in Nigeria and Singapore. Then I moved to London and began working on large, complex residential projects. I found that engineers rely on the information passed down to us, but it is often too late to make significant changes by the time we get involved. This was where what I’d absorbed during my time as a Chapter member started to come to the front of my mind. 

With DASH, we start with an architectural design, aiming to be very thorough in the first part of the design in order to bring engineering in early. Access to information at the design stage makes everything easier. 

When there’s not a lot of detail in a residential concept, it’s a missed opportunity to update the fabric of the building because costs are too vague. This is a roadblock to making sustainable homes affordable. DASH promotes a detailed, fabric-first approach so sustainability can, quite literally, be built in. It’s been great to apply all of the things I absorbed at university later in my career. 

How can this approach improve efforts in sustainable building?

Sustainability is a key driver. The earlier the sustainability conversation, the less it costs. Treating sustainability as an add-on makes it more expensive. You must make structural calculations before the planning permission stage to make sustainable choices at the start. It is a long-phase design process that allows for sustainable additions throughout the life of the building. 

How do you embed a globally responsible approach at DASH?

We don’t look at engineering in isolation. It is part of the supply chain process. Collaboration with architects, developers, and other stakeholders is crucial — no one is trying to challenge anyone else. We engage with them all to demonstrate the value of sustainability. 

What are the current barriers to more consistent sustainable/passive home design?

There’s a lot of anxiety around cost. In the UK, property is often an investment. Unless the building is their own home, people are reluctant to spend the money. There simply isn’t a good understanding of the long-term benefits of sustainable housing because it is hard to quantify better health and wellbeing. 

It also comes down to legislation. If you have a minimum standard for retrofitting existing homes and new builds, you can create consistency. There have been many missed opportunities and a lack of clarity, for example, around heat pumps and insulation grants. Developers are not incentivised, and councils are inconsistent. Without legislation, it is up to homeowners to drive demand, which makes change slower. 

So, how can a globally responsible ethos be embedded outside of specialist consultancies? 

Educating those around you is an essential part of the battle. We are still at the stage of our journey where we are trying to convince people. Awareness and understanding get passed on, even if they don’t commit. This is where you can utilise the tools that Engineers Without Borders UK provides – advocacy is a hugely valuable tool to get us to a tipping point where globally responsible engineering is the norm. As a mentor and judge for design challenges, I’m taking a role in inspiring the next generation. 

What advice would you give to young engineers and architects who want to enter the house building industry? 

Junior engineers shouldn’t get stuck in specialties. The more you absorb from other related disciplines, the more responsible you can be as you understand the impact of your work. The feedback I always give is that if you don’t put yourself in the stakeholder’s shoes, you can’t find the right solutions. Don’t develop a solution in isolation. Come to listen – and then tailor your work based on input.  

Jonathan Fashanu: Founding Director, DASH

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