Savings start from the design.
That’s the first piece of advice Obinna Eze, the Nigerian-born structural engineer behind Ostan, offers to his clients.
For five busy and successful years, Ostan, the Ottawa-based, privately-owned engineering firm, has been providing consultation, inspection, design, and project management services in both the public and private sectors. The firm’s focus on offering increased efficiency, architectural innovation, and structural solidity while minimizing costs continues to generate generous word of mouth. Ostan keeps the best interests of its clients top of mind throughout the entire process, improving, preserving, and personalizing Ottawa’s homes, condominiums, and office complexes.
“We are big on ‘value for money,’” declares the focused and well-spoken Eze. “We advise on components that significantly influence the cost. For instance, if you wanted to remove a 20ft structural wall in your living room. Splitting a beam with a post in the middle would be more affordable than having a continuous beam. We mention these kinds of price effects to the client as part of the design.”
In 2010, Eze made the long trek from eastern Nigeria to Ottawa. While courted by a handful of schools in the U.S., he had settled upon graduate studies at Carleton University. “I was so excited to come to the city,” he bristles. “I had very high expectations—and when I landed, Ottawa exceeded all of them.” There have been sizeable transitions since: from civil engineer to structural designer, from mid-sized consulting firm middle-man to self-made entrepreneur.
Ostan evolved when the aforementioned consulting firm altered its business plan, turning its back on a sector in need of certain services. “Ostan didn’t reinvent the wheel,” Eze explains. “We took existing offerings and found more efficient and practical ways to fulfill them.”
Those offerings continue to include the provision of building sciences to needy commercial and residential clients, suggesting ways to extend the life of an existing infrastructure rather than replace its elements, though replacement is sometimes recommended when repair posits itself as the more expensive proposition.
This financially-focused strategizing is accomplished in close collaboration with a deep pool of fellow professionals, from contractors and property managers to architects and insurance reps. “At Ostan,” says Eze, “one of the early changes we made was understanding how our services affect other collaborators and how other professionals affect our designs. Consider a beam in the basement. A new trend is to have the basement ceiling flush. However, this creates a challenge for running heating and cooling ducts. Hence, if a beam is flush, we have to ensure alternate arrangements have been made for the ducts by consulting the HVAC designer. This is just one example.”
The company also likes to work with the young, maintaining a mission to mentor the industry’s next generation. “We are big on grooming young students,” Eze states proudly. “Being a small firm, we are not able to retain our interns. However, we prepare them adequately for this line of work. We help them learn the work ethic and passion required to succeed. All the students that have interned with us are currently well-placed in various companies in the industry. We also occasionally offer mentorship to high school students in the gifted program who want to study civil engineering or architectural programs. We are proud to be part of their story.”
Small wonder, then, that Ottawa’s homes and buildings are, according to Eze, in sound structural condition. That said, there are always challenges. “In residential buildings, the issues vary by age. Buildings built earlier than the 1940s typically have floor deflection issues. Buildings constructed in some regions of the city known for poor soil conditions typically have foundation issues, which become evident after a long while. New builds sometimes have quality assurance issues related to a complex network of current problems in the construction industry”—including the legacy of the pandemic, which, for Ostan, has been a mixed bag. “The pandemic affected our commercial services significantly, as most of our clients’ businesses were crippled by it and required restrictions. However, it increased our residential services requests, as most people were stuck at home and had more time to make modifications.”
As for the future of the firm, Eze foresees a number of developments. These include working with client-generated design drawings, and greater involvement in sustainable development. “This is not because sustainability has become a buzzword. It’s because it makes practical and economic sense.”
An affirmation that while Ostan will continue to advance the art of structural design, its focus on cost-savvy innovation will remain unaltered.
By Dan Lalande
Photography by Sean Sisk