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WSPs Caroline Couture-Trudel has an entertainment background

WSP's Caroline Couture-Trudel has an entertainment background

 June 28, 2023

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WSP employs impressive women who make a considerable difference through their work - and teamwork is key.

Here, WSP's Lead Project Manager for the Canadian Parliament rehabilitation, Caroline Couture-Trudel, describes how her background in entertainment has influenced her approach to managing major multidisciplinary schemes.

There is magic in great teamwork that promotes creativity, collaboration and getting people to give of their best. 

A different career route: From entertainment into project management

WSP Caroline Couture-Trudel

Caroline's career path to becoming a project manager of major building projects was quite unusual. With her father being an engineer, engineering is in her blood, and she studied electrical engineering as an undergraduate at Laval University in Quebec. "I was also fascinated by the entertainment world, so I went on to do a master’s degree in theatre production in Kingston-upon-Hull in England," shares Caroline. "After that, I worked for around twelve years in entertainment, working mostly as a technical director on the creation of circus shows. I did a lot of work for Cirque du Soleil and was involved in the construction of the National Circus School in Montreal during its construction and first year of its operation. Then, fourteen years ago, I decided to return to the world of engineering consultancy and joined Genivar, which is now WSP. My first job was to project manage the construction of two theatres in Trinidad and Tobago, quickly moving to Project Manager on the owner’s advocate team for the Hilton Hotel Rehabilitation project."

Caroline's specialty is the project management of complex, multidisciplinary, billion dollar-plus projects. She spent three years managing one of Canada’s largest hospitals, Le CHUM in Montreal, then was involved in two major transportation projects.

"The first was the extensive reconstruction of the Turcot Interchange, Quebec’s the largest freeway interchange, which involved our Property & Buildings, Transportation and Environmental teams. Then, before my current project, the rehabilitation of the Canadian Parliament, I worked on WSP's bid for Montreal’s light railway, the REM, currently under construction," she shares.  

It all starts with an artistic idea 

Looking at whether the worlds of entertainment and engineering consultancy have anything in common, Caroline says they have everything in common.

"The parallel between working on, say, a theatre production or a building project, is that it all starts with an artistic idea. Whether that comes from set designers, entertainers – clowns, even – or from the client or the architect, the challenge is to apply the technical services to help bring that artistry to life. There’s a real energy that comes from creating something special from the seemingly incompatible worlds of the artistic and the technical," explains Caroline. 

"Working on the National Circus School helped me develop an empathetic approach to clients and taught me how to ask the right questions to ensure we deliver what they don’t necessarily know they need for the best outcome. And the other thing that they have in common is the emphasis on building teams of people from different specialties and disciplines. I love helping designers to collaborate and to do what they do best."

Sharing what she finds special about the Centre Block Rehabilitation project, Caroline says: "This project is special for multiple reasons. For Canada, this is by far and away the most prominent heritage building, and for WSP, it’s the biggest project we have in our Property & Buildings portfolio, with a construction cost of around 4.5 billion Canadian dollars. It’s a very long project too – we started work on it about six years ago, and it’s due for completion in the early 2030s. And with around 500 people active on the project, it’s like managing a small business. WSP is working in a joint venture with HOK architects called CENTRUS, and WSP is responsible for around 60 percent of the services. It’s a great demonstration of how a project can benefit from WSP’s global expertise; for example, our UK vertical transportation specialists are currently helping us with the elevators."

Caroline shares that there are some unique challenges calling for ingenuity on a massive scale. For example, WSP is using base isolation technology to meet modern seismic standards. It involves separating the structure from the ground using more than 500 base isolators, which act as shock absorbers. Base isolation is used in Japan and California, but this is only the second time it has been done in Canada – and the first instance was a small school building. 

"Another challenge is to upgrade the mechanical and electrical connectivity systems with minimal impact on the heritage fabric. There is also some tremendous work going on to make the building carbon neutral," she says. 

Time for imagination and creativity 

Caroline sees her role as maintaining the best environment possible for designers, so they have time for imagination and creativity despite the pressures of fast-track delivery and the challenges of coordinating 22 disciplines.

"The greatest innovation generator is when people feel confident about sharing their ideas without fear of judgement; when we have people around the table with different points of view and a diversity of backgrounds, not just in terms of technical expertise, but also reflecting different cultures and experience. It’s important to create a safe space where even the craziest ideas can be explored," shares Caroline. 

United in a desire to do their best 

Centre Block is a career highlight for Caroline. She shares: "It’s such an enormous privilege to work on a project that is so well recognized and with such enormous scale and complexity. The magic that we have on Centre Block comes from the team; not just the level of competence, but because everyone is united in their desire to work together and do their very best. Egos are put aside for the greater good; new ideas, new ways of looking at things, new technologies, are all celebrated and encouraged."

When asked what she enjoys about working at WSP, Caroline shares that it is the diversity of projects that she finds appealing: "The huge kaleidoscope of opportunities, and working with and bringing out the best of our fantastic teams."

Witnessing a shift in the sector 

When looking at the Property & Buildings sector generally, Caroline shares that she is delighted to witness the big shift that has been happening in the sector over the last four to five years in relation to sustainability and the environment.

"Although buildings were improving technically, there was so much that needed doing in terms of sustainability that the industry was too unwilling, afraid, unaware of or lacking investment to address," she shares. 

"I have witnessed the sector creating new tools and generating new energy to drive forward net-zero and sustainability, as well as a mingling of interests with other sectors, industries and disciplines. It’s creating conversations that are super interesting and opening up exciting opportunities for the future."

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