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Brazil knows her place--at the top.

Thornton-Tomasetti Engineers' Aine (pronounced Ahn-ya) Brazil is sitting on top of the world--or at least the high-rise buildings she's worked on are.

Listed on the managing principal/ senior vice president's resume are properties such as 5 Times Square, Times Square Tower, The New York Times headquarters and her personal favorite, the challenging expansion of New York Hospital spanning the FDR Drive.

"Lifting health care into space, building a bridge over a frozen river, carrying trusses on barges that were 780 tons each--that one was a real challenge," said Brazil, "but every job is so different."

Brazil's accomplishments in management have earned her a myriad of industry awards, including one for "Professional Leadership" from Professional Women in Construction.

Currently Brazil is involved in the construction of the Goldman-Sachs building along the Jersey City water-front, which will be the tallest building in New Jersey, and feature 1.6 million SF of space.

As one of the few women at her level in the engineering profession; and the only female principal at Thornton-Tomasetti, Brazil's ascent to the top hasn't been easy, although she said being a woman in her field has also had its advantages.

"Being a woman has been a tremendous advantage to me," said Brazil. "I am always remembered. Standing out in a crowd is very good, as long as you make a good impression. Also, I think that sometimes a woman's perspective is a little different, and I find that women have a different way of problem solving at times. It's certainly never hurt me."

Neither has the fact that, while working towards her masters degree in science and technology at Imperial College in London, she was the only woman in her class.

"When making the choice in school to choose a career, people recognize it's male dominated and that's where some women might hesitate," she said, "but you don't even notice you're the only woman in the room until someone points it out."

As someone who was never encouraged to pursue a job as an engineer, and didn't even know what an engineer did, Brazil said she decided to study the subject at the age of 17, because she "felt drawn to building design," particularly New York buildings.

"I like working in New York because I like to see my projects being a part of the New York skyline. I get a kick out of it. If they're high-profile they have some neat structural challenges that make them fun to develop."

Buildings in particular fascinated her as opposed to bridges or highways, because of how proactive they allowed her to be in decision-making.

"When you're working on a building, structure is secondary to other aspects--how's it going to perform? What's its real estate potential in the commercial market in New York? You can understand why people look for certain specific things. That lets me be proactive, and engineers sometimes tena to be reactive. I like to be a part of the decisions."

No doubt Brazil's passion for the industry is what earned her big break in 1982, when she was hired by Thornton-Tomasetti, whose signature projects included the World Trade Center and the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, the world's tallest buildings.

Soon after beginning work at Thornton-Tomasetti's New York office, Brazil was managing construction projects throughout the United States.

However, she still had to fight for respect. At one construction site Brazil was directing in North Carolina, the contractors, all male, listened politely to what she had to say, but then completely ignored her instructions.

"Many young people, particularly women, will often be brushed off as someone who doesn't know what they're talking about, unless they exude confidence," said Brazil, now 44. "It's a lot easier now that I'm older. When you have the confidence, you just go in there and lay it down. You make sure they realize that you know what you're talking about, and that problem will go away with experience."

One thing Brazil said she is happy about is that in the past 20 years, the number of female engineers in the United States has soared to over 221,000 (10.6% of all U.S. engineers) from 58,880 or 4% in 1980. This trend should continue as long as opportunities are made available to women, she said.

Fortunately, her own firm is among the industry's trendsetters, having hired more female engineers than male last year, at a nine to five ratio.

"We have a long way to go to get women in more senior levels here and in any company," said Brazil, "but we're not doing too badly."
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Title Annotation:profile of Aine Brazil, managing principal/svp Thornton-Tomasetti Engineers
Author:Mollotov, Sabina
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 10, 2003
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