Máire Bradley (1986), Wahyu Hariyono (1989), Piyush Katakwar (1994) and Yasmine Wiersema (1994) were all born in the middle of the third ‘technological tsunami’.[1] In the space of these ten years, the personal computer – after a flying start in America – began making inroads worldwide and the Netherlands rapidly transformed from being a relatively computer-illiterate country into one of enthusiastic computer users.[2] In 2021, all four of them are working as engineers or consultants at Royal HaskoningDHV. 

The first wave of technological change - the age of steam engines, factories and railways – had laid the foundations for the engineering firm. The second wave, starting around the turn of the 20th century, saw a significant growth in the business. This was the era of breakthroughs, including the development of the internal combustion engine, the use of electricity as a source of power, and important innovations in the field of chemistry. In particular, this second technological tsunami (which still continues today, for example in the field of energy transition) brought about major changes in day-to-day life, shaped with the help of engineers. After the construction of water supply systems and sewers in towns and cities, the world above ground level also started to look different, with the emergence of new building methods, such as concrete and steel frame constructions.

Making drawings for improvements during the second technological tsunami. Note the ties and the ashtray.
DHV office at Tesselschadelaan in Amersfoort, ca. 1965. (source: Royal HaskoningDHV company archives)

The third wave, likewise full of key technological changes, started around 1970. It was characterised by an initially cautious advance in the digitisation of information, extreme miniaturisation of components (mainly electronic) and satellite communication.[3] In 1984, an article in a Dutch newspaper first described the new ‘internet’ phenomenon and predicted that it would lead to an explosion in information given that scattered groups of local users ‘joined together and started forming larger global networks’.[4] And sure enough, from the moment the very first browsers were developed in the early 1990s, the use of internet exploded worldwide.[5] Broadband connections replaced sluggish modems and laptops and mobile telephones started competing with desktop PCs. The arrival of ‘cloud computing’ in 2006 accelerated the development of digital services.

Máire Bradley, Wahyu Hariyono, Yasmine Wiersema and Piyush Katakwar (source: personal archives and Royal HaskoningDHV company archives)

Between 2008 and 2013, Wahyu, Yasmine, Piyush and Máire acquired their very first smartphones. They belong to the generation whose coming of age went hand-in-hand with the transition from the paper to the internet era. “For me the most significant role of internet is the social media (Instagram and YouTube mainly). With these, I make friends, build networks and share information with people”: this is how Hariyono describes the role of internet in his life.[6] These four young engineers and consultants today are part of the two-thousand-strong group of Young employees at Royal HaskoningDHV. With the world as their working terrain, they are dealing with the puzzles of today.

Worldwide challenges

More or less at the same time as the start of the third tsunami, there was a fundamental shift in thinking about technology. All of a sudden, technology found itself under heavy criticism.[7] After all, the material riches acquired thanks to technological progress also caused the waste of raw materials and environmental pollution on a scale never seen before. 

A ‘green conscience’ grew worldwide. International agreements were made - as universally as possible - to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and so prevent further global warming.[8] Public opinion also changed: since the end of the 1990s, technology has been increasingly seen as being the remedy in the battle for a sustainable future. By way of illustration: from the 2000s onwards, a series of challenges (competitions) was presented to companies as a way of solving growing climate problems through technological innovation.[9]

Similarly, but more serious in tone, three renowned engineering academies in the US, China and Great Britain formulated Grand Challenges for Engineering. The idea was for engineers to play a key role in addressing the huge problems facing the world today and bring about a sustainable future.[10] The seriousness attached to the problem by the engineers - traditionally thought of as being calm and collected - was striking. This emphasis on major global problems - rather than solutions - was itself hinted at by Royal HaskoningDHV: in its 2013 annual report the firm spelled out the pressing need to deal with four global challenges (relating to cities, water, transport and industry) as being central to its work.[11]  

Soon after, the engineers’ focus once again turned to solving problems and helping clients prepare effectively for the future. This comes with the support of the latest developments of an increasingly digital kind. Whether this involves the forecasting of traffic flows, planning for the maintenance of roads or complex installations, carrying out risk management on drinking water supplies, or developing modular construction systems, software is no longer just a means by which consultants can perform their work (as in the past were the ruler, calculator and aerial photographs), the software itself has become the service, that is, the solution.[12] And the tempo at which real-world results are being achieved with the aid of digital solutions is keeping pace with the surge caused by the third technological tsunami. 

Digital developments in historical perspective showing the exponential growth in processing power per $1000. The ‘miniaturisation’ is somewhat more difficult to see. The combination of these led to an exponential increase in use. (source: Kurzweil via Our World in Data)

Itinerant engineers

As previously described, the major problems of our time - paradoxically - are the result of a positive and successful development. After all, not so long ago, the 19th-century engineer Conrad hoped that the construction of the Suez Canal in Egypt would lead to “an outpouring of the benefits of Western civilisation upon a number of peoples who are still deprived of these.”[13] There were also astonishing improvements in living conditions right across the globe.[14] These developments are reflected in the paths trodden by Wahyu, Máire and Piyush along their way to Royal HaskoningDHV.

Raised in Bandung, Indonesia, Wahyu Hariyono took a bachelor’s degree in architecture at the Institut Teknologi Bandung[15] before moving to the megacity of Shanghai in China to gain work experience. It was the first time in his life that he had been outside Indonesia. By coincidence, the Chinese architects who inspired him the most shared the same background: they had all studied architecture, in the Netherlands of all places. So, after two and a half years working in one of the largest metropolises in the world, Wahyu ended up at the Technical University in Delft. He completed his studies there in 2015 with a design for an airport. A book on this subject in the university library eventually led him to NACO (Netherlands Airport Consultants), part of Royal HaskoningDHV. Since 2016, Wahyu has been designing airports across the world, initially based in The Hague and now in Jakarta.[16]

Impression of Kazan airport in Russia, by Wahyu Hariyono, 2021.

For Máire Bradley from Ballycroy in County Mayo, Ireland, her journey started when she decided to study in Dublin, a four-hour drive from where she grew up. After taking a bachelor’s degree in Structural Engineering, she gained a master’s in the same discipline in 2009. At the time, the Irish economy was suffering a slump. The short but rapid economic boom between 1995 and 2008 – which had given rise to the country’s nickname of the “Celtic Tiger” – ended with outbreak of the global banking crisis in 2008, resulting in rising unemployment. Máire sought and found her first job as a structural engineer in London. After working in another position as structural engineer with Royal Haskoning (as it was then known) in Peterborough, England, she moved to the Netherlands in 2015 to work for Royal HaskoningDHV.[17]

Since 2019, Máire [Bradley] has been working as a constructor helping to develop ‘templates’ for the distribution warehouses of the American e-commerce business Amazon, in more than 10 European countries. (Left picture: Amazon Warehouse in Dunfermline, Scotland November 2019, photo: Douglas Barrie, PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo, right picture: Amazon’s new distribution centre in Rozenburg-Schiphol, 2021. Photo: ANP/Marco de Swart)

The paths taken by Máire and Wahyu illustrate how one fundamental characteristic of the firm has been gradually changing: engineers and consultants are no longer being ‘sourced’ in the Netherlands and then being sent out to larger projects internationally. Instead, it is now the world which, quite literally, is coming to the firm.[18]  

Energy transition, climate change

Chemical engineer Piyush Katakwar also belongs to this new group within the company: he emigrated from India to the Netherlands. He obtained his bachelor’s degree at the Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology in Nagpur, India, and later his master’s in Delft. After graduating however, he decided not to start a job in the oil and gas sector – as he had dreamed of in his youth– but instead chose to become an energy transition consultant. Together with colleagues, he advises major industries on the steps they might take to achieve a climate-neutral future.[19]

Historical shift in energy sources and the increase in energy consumption which went hand-in-hand with rapid progress. (source: Our WorldInData.org/energy, CC BY 4.0)

Parametric design of a huge scale green Hydrogen factory. Designed to help industrial clients think of new ways to reach 2030 emission goals. Piyush was project manager and co-designed it for the Institute of Sustainable Process Technology, in 2019. (source: company archives Royal HaskoningDHV)

In contrast to the other three, Yasmine Wiersema was born and raised in the Netherlands. “Whenever they started cutting down trees in our street I would set up a website: Stop de kap van bomen.nl! (‘stop felling trees’)” She made a conscious decision to study Water Science & Management at the University of Utrecht, so that she could help make a better world.[20] 

By now, most scientists agree that global warming is the result of the emission of greenhouse gases and that extreme weather conditions are occurring more frequently. The strictest agreements - at least for now – for limiting global warming were set down in the binding 2015 Paris climate agreement. This treaty, which came into effect in 2020, includes a series of international agreements limiting the global rise in temperature to 2 degrees Celsius in relation to the pre-industrial era. The participating countries will do their best to contain this rise to 1.5 degrees.[21] The crux? Using less energy, generating alternative (non-fossil) energy and also mitigating the effects of rising temperatures. 

These climate agreements have a direct influence on the work of the engineering firm. This ranges from developing roadmaps to an energy-neutral future for energy-intensive clients (for example, the processing industry), drawing up scenarios for water authorities and municipalities having to offset water shortages (and surpluses), to providing planning and support for new players in the niche market of solar and wind energy.[22] 

Piyush Katakwar describes himself as being ‘realistically optimistic’ and sees the task as much as possible as a positive challenge. It is precisely the complexity of his work which he enjoys, for example, advising a large player in the chemical industries about ways of reducing carbon emissions. 

Strategic consultant on drinking water, Yasmine Wiersema characterises herself as still being ‘a bit of an activist’. From her office at Royal HaskoningDHV she initiated a wide-ranging and in-depth discussion about new ways of solving water shortages. And with great success: the meetings with experts in the field are helping the firm to showcase its extensive know-how in water-related issues.[23] But – in addition to smart, digital working – they are also demonstrating the method for solving complex problems: working together and coming up with joint solutions.[24]

Yasmine Wiersema as one of the few working in the offices of Royal HaskoningDHV in Amersfoort. Three screens and sandwiches: at the time of the COVID pandemic, online working is the norm. During breaks, Wiersema offers her colleagues and clients (virtual) snacks and sandwiches, 2021. (source: Wiersema private archives)

The future: work in progress

All those who have worked at Royal HaskoningDHV since 1881 have been visionaries, to a greater of lesser degree. They were constantly occupied with things that were still going to happen – in the same way as Máire, Wahyu, Piyush and Yasmine and their 6000 colleagues today. In each era, the work had its own urgency, aimed at solving the problems of that specific moment. In this respect it would not be correct to label today’s issues as the most important in history. The future is still a work in progress. And it is still the case that the engineers and consultants are the driving force in this, with their knowledge, their creativity and their capacity to work together.  

 “To be valid, the design process must merge nature, humanity, and technology; it must harmonize east and west, north and south, as well as past, present, and future, into a dynamic equilibrium. Today this is a challenge; tomorrow it will be the norm”.[25]


About this project

In October 2021 Royal HaskoningDHV will celebrate its 140th birthday. To mark this milestone, we have commissioned a series of striking stories highlighting key moments in the firm's history. We are proud of our heritage and this is a great opportunity to share our stories with a wider audience.