Peter Tofte Philipsen: The engineer who wants to go into the field

Selfie of a man in construction workwear standing on bridge

From Denmark to South Africa in a Volkswagen microbus and a newly acquired sports car - those are a couple of the dreams realised over the past year by Peter Tofte Philipsen. The 30-year-old engineer will never be “an office body”. He is a die-hard practician.

Peter Tofte Philipsen does not belong behind a desk and a computer. The 30-year-old Bachelor of Engineering is not the one to calculate and draw up the solutions. He is the one who will be out on the site and getting his hand in when the work is being done in real life. As a student, Peter had his doubts as to whether to become an engineer. He considered swapping from engineering to event planning as a concert organiser, but a successful trainee programme with Storebælt A/S in 2011 marked a turning point in his career until then. He had always been interested in bridges, but the trainee programme helped him realise that engineering was the pathway for him.

Today, he works in the NIRAS bridges and tunnels department, having been hired after graduating from DTU in 2013. Peter was always the sort of person to dream big and often people would ask, ‘Will anything ever come of it?’ But Peter does frequently realise some of his outlandish dreams and ideas. Most recently, he drove the 20,000 kilometres from Denmark to South Africa with a friend, and he has bought a sports car, a dream he has harboured since the age of twelve.

Why did you choose to become a consultant with NIRAS?

I think it is exciting that you can be a consulting engineer without being an “office body” stuck behind a computer screen all day. I want to get out into the field and see how things are done in reality. I am not the type who wants to spend his time drawing and making calculations. That is, of course, a part of the job, but not the biggest part. I have succeeded in finding a consulting job in which the practical side is significant. One thing is how we draw it, another is how we execute it. It can be difficult to design the renovation of a bridge if the existing drawings are from 1853.

How would you describe the community in your department?

We have a strong community spirit in my department. With 50 people it is a good size, and this means that we all know each other. There is also a lot of young people in my department, which is a general trend at NIRAS, and I like that a lot. There is a large number of people in my department who either come straight from graduating with some skills, say in new digital solutions, and then we have “the old ones” with many years of engineering experience.

What are you engaged with at NIRAS?

The things you do at university is to build and draw the new structures and constructions - and this is pretty much the only thing I don’t work with. I work with the existing and old structures: bridges, tunnels, concrete high-rises that need maintenance and repair work. I frequently take part in the inspection and the subsequent pilot project where visitations are made to determine what sort of damage it is we are dealing with. After this, we propose maintenance and repair works. The next step is the design stage, and once that is completed we also usually carry out the professional inspection. So I’ll be on site, say, when a bridge needs renovating.

When did you last do any travel?

I just completed a long journey through Africa with a friend. We drove by car from Denmark to South Africa. We did this between the end of September and January, 20,000 kilometres in an old Volkswagen microbus. I have seen it all, from 1,000 kilometres of desert through Sudan to palm beaches in Zanzibar. We are currently sizing up our options for another trip. This time we will be driving through Asia. But that is still only on the drawing board. Still, drawings can turn into reality.

What is the story behind your new car?

When I was twelve years old, I saw a sports car at a dealership. First, I thought, “I want to work there”. So I did workplace period there while in ninth grade, working as an auto mechanic.  I could have gone in that direction, but instead chose high school and kept my interest in cars at the hobby level. Since then, I have always dreamed of owning that sports car: a Lotus Elise. I bought it a few weeks ago. I have told many people since then that one day I would be driving that car. Some people might have put the money towards the deposit on a home, but I chose to fulfil a long-standing dream.