When he was only 14, Richard Chen made the long trek between Taiwan and the United States with his younger brother to further his education.
“My grandfather, who received his doctor of medicine degree in Japan, was not a firm believer in the educational system in Taiwan and decided to send all his grandchildren to receive a better education outside of Taiwan,” said Chen, 36.
Chen eventually attended the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees in structural engineering, and received his master’s degree in 2001. Today he is a principal, structural and earthquake engineer, at Miyamoto International.
“Growing up in a big family in Taiwan, I have always dreamed of designing and building houses so that all of my family could live together under one roof,” Chen said. “When I took the advanced concrete, steel, and bridge design class at UC San Diego, it became very clear to me that earthquake and structural engineering is my passion.”
Years later, Chen had the unique opportunity to help design a building for the structural engineering department at his alma mater. The project was special to him not only because of his attachment to the program, but also because of the artistic nature and technical complexity — the project required leaving many structural elements exposed as a demonstration.
Richard Chen with his daughter Callie at the Sky Mirror at AT&T Stadium.
Chen’s tenacity and desire to learn is apparent. When asked if he had any advice to young/aspiring engineers he said, “There is never one solution to a problem. Always be open-minded to other people’s ideas and never stop learning.”
Chen has embraced this sentiment, one of the many things he learned from one of his mentors, Robert E. Englekirk, chairman emeritus of Englekirk Structural Engineers, who recruited Chen to join his firm after he took his advanced concrete design class at UCSD.
“One time I had a ‘not-so-good’ performance review and Bob said to me, ‘There is a rearview mirror in my car that I never use. I just always go straight, full speed. You should do the same,’” Chen said. “Every time I go to Bob for advice, he never gives me a quick answer. He always waits to hear my answer first, then he may challenge it with several questions. Bob really taught me how to be a leader, to always lead by example, to be open-minded and considerate of others, and to never stop learning.”
Chen’s current role as a principal at Miyamoto International requires him to lead and grow the Los Angeles team. The firm has approximately 200 employees in total with about 20 in that office.
Chen said that “winning” is one of the favorite parts of his job, but his meaning behind the word goes deeper than one might think. ”My favorite part is winning the projects and winning the heart of the people I work with, both the clients and staff,” Chen said.
Chen has a variety of notable projects associated with his name, but a couple are particularly special to him. The Citizen Business Bank Arena (CBBA) in Ontario, Calif., seats 11,000 people on two levels, including 36 luxury suites, and serves a variety of uses such as ice hockey, basketball, concerts, and other assembly functions. The construction is precast concrete stadia, raker beams, and vomitory walls, with girder and columns that were constructed offsite (in lieu of cast-in-place construction onsite) and were later assembled onsite, just like Legos. Precast construction allowed the project to finish six months ahead of schedule.
“It was the first arena [in which] a precast/post-tensioned hybrid moment frame system was used in a high-seismic region. I worked closely with the design team and the builder to resolve some of the challenges we faced, such as figuring out the sequence of construction for the hybrid frames and the erection of 240-foot-span steel trusses. It was intriguing, fun, and exciting,” Chen said.
Sky Mirror, a dual-sided, 35-foot-diameter stainless steel mirror designed by the artist Anish Kapoor, is another unique project. Miyamoto International received a call from Gladstone Gallery to see if they were interested in providing some engineering assistance on the project. While the Sky Mirror was already constructed, there were no existing structural drawings available for the potential buyer, The Dallas Cowboys Stadium, to review. The complicated structural design of the Sky Mirror consists of a large cantilever arm with a hub, which allows 15 other pieces of stainless wedges to be hung from the center hub to make up the 35-foot-diameter mirror.
“We decided to take on the challenge of providing and completing as-built documents in three weeks to allow the engineer, Walter P Moore (Dallas Cowboy’s Stadium’s Structural Engineer of Record), to review and understand the existing sculpture so that the purchase ‘deal’ could still go through,” Chen said. Miyamoto International also took on the project manager role by hiring a testing lab and steel contractor to perform non-destructive and destructive testing to verify the steel strength and quality of the existing steel connections.
“This was a very interesting project that is quite unlike other building projects we typically work on and the feeling of successfully helping clients complete an almost-impossible mission was absolutely thrilling,” Chen said.
Chen and his wife Felicia have a five-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Callie, and a two-year-old son, Brayden. Chen’s determination doesn’t limit itself to work responsibilities. He is a fourth degree black belt martial art instructor in Shorinji Kempo, a martial art that focuses on self-defense, spiritual training, and health promotion.
“One of the main philosophies is to help others and improve the lives of people by sharing what we have. Miyamoto International’s mission to ‘make the world a better place’ is one of the main reasons that inspired me to the join the Miyamoto family,” Chen said.