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Temporary structures, stability and preliminary structural planning – what does a structural engineer do?

Many helping hands are required for a trade fair to take place. And while they are but one small component of the huge system that makes our trade fairs possible, structural engineers are a key reason that they can take place safely. We sat down with one of them for an interview.

Nick Hoffmann, Statiker beim Ingenieurbüro Klaus Röder
Nick Hoffmann, structural engineer with Ingenieurbüro Klaus Röder

Hello, Nicolaj, and thanks for taking the time to talk with us. You are a structural engineer with Ingenieurbüro Klaus Röder, a firm of engineering consultants, and you have been working with Messe Frankfurt for many years now. Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself and explaining what exactly it is that you do.

My name is Nicolaj, but on the exhibition grounds I’m better known as Nick. I’m 34 years old, and I’m a civil engineer by trade. I work in the construction industry as a structural engineer, where I assist with the planning of new structures and renovation measures. I am also active in the event sector, where I specialise in temporary structures and event technology and equipment. This is a field in which the standards and guidelines are sometimes different. Both before and during set-up for various events, my team and I support Messe Frankfurt with preliminary structural planning and the inspection of various constructions to ensure that they are structurally sound and stable.

What does a typical day look like for you during trade fair set-up?

In the morning, I meet up with my team to discuss the situation and coordinate the day’s activities. Depending on what is required, we work with the technical project management team to deal with problems and special cases.

Finally, my team and I split up and make our way through the aisles of the exhibition halls occupied by the event. On each day of set-up – and sometimes multiple times each day for more complex cases – we examine the structurally relevant special constructions and suspensions from hall ceilings. We monitor the construction process right through until the completion of the stand and we coordinate with the stand constructors. We also offer suggestions for optimising stability where necessary and monitor the entire implementation process. Our aim is to be able to confirm the stability and structural soundness of all constructions by the final day of set-up.

Thank you for these fascinating insights – it sounds like a great deal of responsibility. Is there any advice that you would like to share with stand constructors or exhibitors who are preparing for an event?

They should contact us in advance to find out whether any special constructions on their stands might need to be reviewed by structural engineers. It is usually possible to clear up most issues before set-up begins, which allows for everything to run smoothly. If there are problems that need to be solved during set-up to ensure stability, this can lead to the unnecessary loss of time and money for customers. We are happy to help with the planning process and to arrange for external and independent structural engineers who can collaborate with customers to plan their load-bearing structures and compile the documentation required for review and approval before set-up.

We have talked a lot about all the things that happen before a trade fair. Does that mean that your work is finished on the final day of set-up?

Once all of the structural inspections and approvals have been completed, follow-up work has to be done. The inspections and approvals are documented, and these may prove to be relevant for the same trade fair the following year. In addition, the saying “after the trade fair is before the trade fair” is also relevant for us. Many of the planning phases overlap, which means that we are continuously working with exhibiting companies, stand constructors, service partners, and Messe Frankfurt personnel. Besides this, we are responsible for various other events and construction projects all over Europe.

What is the strangest thing that you have experienced before or during a trade fair?

I regularly see strange things during set-up, and this makes it even clearer to me that I need to be on site to ensure that events can take place safely.

Even so, for me the strangest thing is always the way in which an empty exhibition hall is transformed into hundreds of little building sites – some of which appear to be absolutely chaotic – and then changes once again, on the morning when the trade fair opens, into a clean and orderly hall with clean carpets and perfectly tidy stands.

What it is that makes you enjoy going to work every morning?

It’s great to be part of something where lots of people are working towards the same goal. When an event is scheduled to begin on Day X, everyone joins together to do everything possible so that the event can get started on time and everyone can take part as planned.

You really summed it up nicely. Thank you for sharing your insights with us. We will all be seeing one another here at the exhibition grounds soon.

You’re welcome – I’m looking forward to it!

A brief look at... ...temporary structures. These are constructions that are suitable for repeated use and which can be set-up and dismantled at each location.