Canada, People Spotlight, Water

Our People Spotlight series gives you an inside look at our technical experts around the world. This week, we are highlighting a civil department manager from our Water business line in Montreal, Quebec and providing insight into their consulting inspiration and work.

Based in our Montreal office, AECOM’s Hydropower Center of Excellence, Maria Magafourakis is a civil/structures department manager responsible for a team of more than 30 employees. Maria earned her Civil Engineering degree from École Polytechnique de Montréal in 1989 and has been working on hydro projects for most of her career.

Tell us about what inspired you to join the industry.

I always loved math and physics, so I decided to pursue civil engineering following sound advice I received from a school guidance counsellor. My interest in the subjects grew further after my first semester at university. I chose to specialize in structures because I was fascinated by challenging architectural designs and what made them “stand up”.

What is your favorite AECOM project that you’ve worked on and why?

Since joining AECOM in 2000, I’ve had the opportunity to work on many interesting and stimulating projects, but I have to say the one assignment that is definitely on top of the list is the design of the Hydro-Québec Romaine 2 hydroelectric powerhouse. I was the project engineer for this first in a series of four powerhouses on the Romaine River in northern Quebec, working alongside our multidisciplinary team.

Although our Montreal office already had over 35 years’ experience in the detailed design of hydroelectric projects at the time, Romaine 2 was the first powerhouse where an innovative design was used to not only optimize and speed up the construction schedule, but also to reduce the number of specialized workers on site including welders, masons and re-bar installers. The design allowed for a maximum number of reinforced concrete structural elements and masonry walls, conventionally used worldwide in powerhouse design, to be replaced by structural steel sections and prefabricated concrete panels. These prefabricated structural elements were produced in urban centers, delivered, and quickly installed and erected on site.

This approach clearly identified upfront certain critical aspects of construction that would impact the schedule, along with the design’s advantages and limitations compared to a conventional powerhouse. One of the greatest challenges we were able to overcome was maintaining the same level of reliability and length of service life as a conventional powerhouse. For example, since the replacement of a significant volume of reinforced concrete by structural steel meant that the new optimized structure was lighter than a conventional structure, our teams had to address potential global stability issues all while ensuring that the lighter structure was not subject to excessive vibrations and potential resonance with the electro-mechanical equipment.

Romaine 4, the last of the four powerhouses, is currently under construction. Once complete, these four powerhouses will have a total installed capacity of 1,550 megawatts and will have the ability to supply 8 terawatt hours of clean, affordable power to approximately 1.6 million homes.

Tell us a story of how your work positively impacted the community.

The Montreal team has a long history of working on major hydroelectric projects and is a key player in the development of multiple powerhouses with a total installed capacity of over 15,000 megawatts for the James Bay Project in Northern Quebec starting in 1971. I’m proud to be part of such a legacy knowing that our teams have worked on renewable energy projects – supplying millions of homes with clean, affordable energy over the past decades.

It is equally satisfying knowing that our clients also take the environment to heart and that our multidisciplinary teams collaborate with them to provide important mitigation measures to protect wildlife habitats and heritage sites.

Share a piece of career advice. I have had the privilege of working with many exceptional people throughout my career, many of whom had extensive experience and specializations in their fields. They were always very willing to provide guidance and mentorship. My advice is to be humble and never underestimate the knowledge you may gain by truly listening to and respecting those around you.

Be open to criticism because if given in a constructive manner, it can benefit both your professional and your personal growth. I believe that we have something to learn from everyone at every level, and I am truly grateful to all the people I met along the way who helped shape me into the engineer I am today.

Originally published Oct 26, 2022

Author: Maria Magafourakis