Canadian Consulting Engineer

CCE’s Lifetime Achievement Awards: Ashok Malhotra

February 8, 2024
By Peter Saunders

Ashok Malhotra

Photo courtesy WSP.

Ashok Malhotra, an Ottawa-based senior principal in WSP’s buildings practice, has worked for 61 years in consulting engineering, including 58 in Canada. Born in India, he earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Roorkee in 1962.

“My grandfather, who lived with us when I was growing up, worked on the railways as a permanent way inspector,” he explains. “He wanted at least one of his grandsons to become an engineer. I studied subjects ranging from transportation to sanitation, but structural design interested me the most.”

Malhotra started his career in Delhi and Calcutta, then immigrated to Canada in 1965.

“Back then, I had no trouble getting a job in two or three days in Montreal!” he recalls, citing such iconic projects as Expo 67 in Montreal and Place Bonaventure.

He completed a graduate course in bridges at McGill University. Following a brief stint as a structural engineer in Montreal, he set down roots in Ottawa, joining Halsall Associates in 1966 and completing a graduate course in the use of computers in structural design at the University of Ottawa.

Over the years, Malhotra rose to manager and vice-president (VP) in charge of Halsall’s Ottawa office and eventually a member of the firm’s board of directors. He worked on everything from Department of National Defence (DND) projects to high-rise apartment buildings, schools, the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian War Museum and alterations to the Parliament Buildings.

“I took a keen interest in all of the different things that can take shape on empty land,” he says. “During the recession in the 1990s, when we had to find other sources of work, I turned to building science and learned more about why buildings deteriorate.”

Alterations to Parliament Buildings

Malhotra’s work has included alterations to the Parliament Buildings. Photo courtesy WSP.

Malhotra established himself further in this field by writing books, including best practice guides for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) on flashings and brick veneer concrete masonry unit backing, as well as two volumes of guidelines for Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) on building wall envelopes and designing, repairing and maintaining parking structures. These works help land further work for the firm.

“They always say if you want to be an expert in something, write a book on it!” he says.

Another new area of focus, following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was blast resistance design. Malhotra developed in-house software for this purpose and published several papers on the subject in association with other engineers in the office.

“It was a totally new subject for me, he says. “A lot of secrecy surrounded the subject in those days, but we were able to expand our skills and offer new services to the federal and provincial governments.”

Halsall was acquired by Parsons Brinckerhoff in 2010, which in turn was acquired by WSP in 2014. While Halsall had employed 350 people at its peak, Malhotra was now one of 35,000 … and 67,000 by 2024.

“Yet, I was working with the same people,” he explains, “and today I enjoy continuing to learn new things that are difficult to do!”

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Canadian Consulting Engineer.


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