Farewell and thank you David Carmichael

Farewell and thank you David Carmichael

It is hard to believe but at the end of 2020 our systems and construction management guru Professor David Gordon Carmichael became an Emeritus Professor, retiring after thirty-three years of research and teaching excellence at UNSW.

David obtained his BE (Hons) and MEngSc at the University of Sydney, and his PhD from the University of Canterbury.  He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales, Fellow of the Institution of Engineers Australia, Life Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a graded arbitrator and mediator.  He joined the School’s academic staff as Professor in 1987, taking on the leadership of the Engineering Construction and Management Department, and became one of UNSW’s longest serving Professors and contributors to UNSW’s development.  He coordinated departmental activities, teaching, research and industry liaison until departments were disestablished in a university restructure in 1998, and beyond that was involved in extensive UNSW administration.

Professor Carmichael has held appointments at The University of Western Australia, The University of California (Berkeley), The University of Waterloo, Ontario, The Asian Institute of Technology, The University of Canterbury, The University of Auckland, Griffith University, The University of Technology, Mara, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, The University of British Columbia, and Chulalongkorn University.

Throughout the 1990s the Engineering Construction and Management Department continued to explore construction robotics and analysis of construction operations, but it also added emerging areas within technical management (contracts, risk, project, finance, planning, …), as well as disputes and marketing.  His breadth of technical knowledge is matched by few people.  In teaching, he developed fourteen different postgraduate courses including comprehensive study guides, and in one year delivered all fourteen courses together with projects - enough for two full masters coursework degrees.

David Carmichael was Foundation Director of the Master of Business Technology (MBT) program, introduced to give management skills to engineers.  In the early 1990s he embarked on offering distance learning within the Faculty’s postgraduate coursework MEngSc and MBT programs, keeping the content relevant and topical to address industry demand.  The program was also taken offshore to Singapore, where the programs further thrived. 

Specialisations were offered in Project Management, Construction Management, Engineering/Technology Management and Infrastructure Management.  The distance learning was supported by extensive open learning study guides.  Students could now graduate with a UNSW degree from anywhere in the world, and students on all continents availed themselves of this opportunity.  Demand was also very high for the on-campus engineering management courses and the MEngSc in project management soon became the School’s most consistently popular specialisation.

With risk management and problem solving among his expertise, it should come as no surprise that in the classroom Professor Carmichael was constantly challenging his students to apply their learning, weigh up their options, test their limits and when necessary shift the goal posts, in his efforts to create industry leaders who are innovative thinkers.  Students, in the main, appreciated his efforts. 

David was awarded the Vice Chancellor's Award for Teaching Excellence, UNSW Australia, 2014, and Engineers Australia Engineering Excellence Award – for his work and leadership of the Leighton Masters program.  The excellence of the distance MEngSc program had attracted Leighton Holdings, then the largest construction company in Australia, to work with David to design and implement a bespoke MEngSc program in project management based on his already successful distance program but now specifically designed for Leighton staff in Australia and overseas.

Moving into the challenges of the twenty-first century, David was team leader of the Construction Innovation and Research Initiative (CIRI) within the School.  He was interested in sustainability practices within the construction industry and conducting research into carbon trading; operations and carbon emissions; incorporating carbon emissions and carbon credits into feasibility studies, aka ‘carbon finance’; and CDMs (Clean Development Mechanisms) for developing countries.

David has been described as a polymath.  He has shunned the narrow focus adopted by many academics, and has published in journals and books covering multiple disciplines including - structural engineering, construction, management, finance, economics, sustainability, project management, construction management, property, control systems, systems engineering, and problem solving.  Professor Carmichael publishes, teaches, and consults across multiple disciplines.

Much of what Professor Carmichael writes is considered to be left-field, and some might be considered controversial, maverick and uncompromising.  Commonly, he shows that the status quo is flawed in an attempt to promote healthy discussion for the advancement of the state-of-the-art of the professions.  The challenge for Professor Carmichael has always been to get people to acknowledge that the state-of-the-art needs improving and not dogmatically defend current situations. 

Within the fields of systems, construction and projects, Professor Carmichael is regarded as one of the most knowledgeable people in Australia and abroad – both in breadth and depth.  He has over 40 years’ experience in observing, lecturing, researching, practising and providing legal expert opinion in these fields.  He is unique in being able to seamlessly transition between practice, teaching and research.  He has extensive industry involvement.

David is the author and editor of twenty-five books and over two hundred papers in structural and construction engineering and construction and project management, winning Best Paper Awards from the journals involvedfor work of long-lasting value.  He has seven sole-authored research monographs and has made numerous seminal contributions to knowledge over multiple disciplines.  Specific significant seminal contributions of Professor Carmichael to knowledge include those involving: Adaptability, Flexibility and Convertibility; Future proofing; Risk and Risk Management; Investment; Options; Problem Solving; Planning; Management and Project Management; Management Fads; Construction, Quarrying and Surface Mining Emissions; Contractor Payments; Project Delivery; Contracts; Construction, Quarrying and Surface Mining Operations: Production and Cost; Optimum Structural Design; Material and Structure Characterisation; Systems Modelling; Systems Fundamental Configurations; Organisations; Bias and Decision Making; Design, Constructability, Work Study; and Civil Engineering Systems Body of Knowledge.

With an international reputation for excellence, Professor Carmichael is known for his adeptness at balancing big picture thinking with a keen eye for detail, producing landmark, seminal texts on project and risk management (Project Management Framework, A. A. Balkema, Rotterdam, 2004), project planning (Project Planning and Control, Taylor and Francis, London, 2006), problem solving (Problem Solving for Engineers,CRC Press, Taylor and Francis, London, 2013), and infrastructure investment (Infrastructure Investment: An Engineering Perspective, CRC Press, Taylor and Francis, London, 2014). 

He has an active and extensive industry engagement, and has provided expert reports and expert witness in cases involving structural failures, construction accidents and safety, and contractual and liability matters.  His major consultancy work has included the structural design and analysis of civil and building structures; the planning and programming of engineering projects; the administration and control/replanning of civil engineering projects and contracts; and various construction and building related work.  He holds engineering practice credentials: CPEng NER, Registered Professional Engineer (NER - National Engineering Register), Engineers Australia; Chartered Professional Engineer, Engineers Australia; APEC Registered Engineer (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation); and IntPE(Aus), International Engineering Association (IEA) Registered Engineer. 

Not one to slow up, David served on UNSW Council from 2018 -2020 as one of two academic representatives voted in by academic staff, while continuing during this period to teach, and publish more than twenty articles in international peer-reviewed journals.

David defined himself as first and foremost a systems person.  This necessarily entails, in all endeavours, amongst other things, looking at the bigger picture first before looking at the detail.  Systems thinking strips everything to its core features unencumbered by jargon and detail, and it provides a systematic structure for viewing the world and problem solving.

If I had any influence over what a civil engineering curriculum should look like, I would recommend heavy doses of problem solving, modelling and decision making, which generic skills will stay constant over time.  A personal regret is that civil engineering programs, at both UNSW and elsewhere, have discarded systems studies in favour of short-term area-specific detail, such that graduates often fail to see the bigger picture and the component interrelationships until many years into their post-university working life.” (CVEN history p. 249)

We thank David for all his amazing work for the School and the engineering profession, and wish him all the very best in his continued research and ongoing projects.

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