A forensic specialist, Nick Hyatt has more than 15 years of experience in the inspection, analysis and restoration of buildings and structures for building owners, insurers and attorneys. Investigations have involved structural failures, fire damage, wind damage, vibration damage and foundation settlement. His projects frequently involve evaluation of structural capacity, design of repairs, construction documents and construction observation. Nick also serves as the lead investigator for multi-disciplinary teams that require expert investigation, consulting and sworn testimony.

Who are you and what do you do at Thornton Tomasetti?

Currently I’m the Midwest Regional Leader for the Property Loss Consulting Group at Thornton Tomasetti. I lead a group of engineers in Chicago and the Midwest performing forensic investigational work.

What made you want to become a forensic engineer?

Serendipity! I was always interested in buildings and structures and how things went together, but I never really planned on being in forensics or looking at how buildings perform. It’s just somewhere that I ended up when I finished school, but I’ve found it to be a good fit. The problems are challenging and I always liken it to engineering detective work.

I think the day-to-day work is more interesting and a lot more challenging than some of the design problems. Where we’re trying to figure out why a design didn’t work or how to fix it takes more thought and sometimes more work than building it in the first place. There is more variety to the work and that keeps it interesting.

What’s the most rewarding thing about your job?

It’s slightly repetitive, but I would say that the more rewarding aspect is the variety of buildings and structures that we get to look at and the different challenges that we encounter day to day that keeps it fresh and exciting.

If you weren’t a forensic engineer, what do you think you would be?

Either a sculptor, or a professional surfer! I’m really not sure how I ended up an engineer as I’m more of a creative type and no a linear thinker like most engineers.

What do you do to relax away from work?

Surfing, hiking and fishing, anything that gets me away from the press of people in the city. I love architecture and life in the city but I like to balance that with time in wide open spaces.

Tell us something about yourself that people wouldn’t know?

I secretly like to garden. I love growing things. My current project is growing a bamboo forest in my back yard. I just love the way it looks and it reminds me of the countryside in China.

Where do you come from and where do you live?

I come from Chicago, and I’m current living in Chicago! It’s a great city and will always come back here, but I have been fortunate to live in many different places. At one point or another I have called Colorado Springs, Boston, Christchurch New Zealand, and London home.

What’s the best and worst thing about where you live?

The worst thing about Chicago is the summer, because it’s hot and humid, and I hate the heat. The best thing about Chicago is that it’s a great architectural city and the fact that it’s just really a fun place.

How many countries have you worked in?

I would say probably 11!

What’s your favourite food/drink/film/music?

Food – Deep dish Chicago Pizza

Drink – Manhattan

Film – That’s a tough one, it’s a toss-up between 300 and The Shawshank Redemption.

Music – Very eclectic, but it would probably be grunge or Seattle sound.

What’s your favourite building or structure?

I love the old Chicago. The buildings that were built after the fire by the likes of Burnham and Root or Addler and Sullivan are what really make Chicago a great architectural city. I think my favourite building is the Tribune Tower it’s a great example of neo-Gothic building right on the river and is really an icon of Chicago architecture.

Photo credit: Willis Day Sky via photopin (license)
Photo credit: Tribune tower via photopin (license)