José Rivacoba awarded a Laureate by the Royal Academy of Engineering

24/06/2015 (Spain)
José Rivacoba awarded a Laureate by the Royal Academy of Engineering

José Rivacoba Urruela, known by most as Txetxu Rivacoba, former Head of the Structures and Mechanisms Section in the engineering and technology group SENER, has received a Laureate in a unanimous decision by the first plenary assembly of the Spanish Royal Academy of Engineering.

The award ceremony took place on Tuesday June 23 at 6:30 pm at the headquarters of the Royal Academy of Engineering in Madrid. Several of José Rivacoba’s colleagues from SENER gave speeches, including the Honorary Chairman and founder, Enrique de Sendagorta, the Managing Director, Jorge Unda, the Director of the Department for Urban Transport, Roads and Mechanisms, Rafael Fuldain, the former Head of Structures and Mechanisms, Fernando Artigas, and the Structures and Mechanisms Project Director, Fernando del Campo. In the words of Miguel Ángel Losada, the members of the Academy highlighted the fact that José Rivacoba “has done his engineering with ingenuity, in a tireless search for efficient solutions. Engineering is a field of human activity that has a decisive influence on the welfare of society and the sustainability of our Earth system, and to be worthy of the name ‘engineering’ it has to be efficient.” The session concluded with a keynote speech by José Rivacoba entitled “Educating the Engineering Profession.”

José Rivacoba Urruela (Txetxu Rivacoba) was a war child who was brought up in the USSR, having been evacuated by his parents at the tender age of 5, to save him from the Spanish Civil War. Soon after completing his degree in Civil and Energy Engineering in Moscow in 1955, he returned to Spain. Once back in the land of his birth, in 1961 he was put in contact with José Manuel de Sendagorta, co-Founder of SENER, and started to work at the company where he remained for 35 years until his retirement.

Throughout this time, Txetxu worked at the Structures and Mechanisms section in Bilbao, which he led from 1975, always contributing towards the growth and diversification of SENER from its early days as a naval technical office to the multidisciplinary engineering and technology group that it is today. He created almost twenty patents and executed some of the company’s most iconic pieces of work, such as the Kiruna launch tower, the Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall, the nozzles for gas turbine propellers and the first heliostats to be installed in Spain.

This was recalled in a speech by the Founder of SENER, today its Honorary President, Enrique de Sendagorta, who referred to his training, his original points of view, his rectitude and his personal life, “so tough and full of hazards in his early youth, when he was forging his spirit as a decent man, a wise engineer and a teacher.” From his very first day at SENER he won a great deal of admiration and he himself began to admire our company and his closest colleagues, especially my brother José Manuel, who was managing them and who was his friend. The results of this were quite unexpected, because mutual admiration leads to a demanding passion for a job well done, a powerful stimulus to put one’s own soul into the work and the satisfaction of working shoulder to shoulder, that creates such a solid unity.”

The consultant and former Head of Structures and Mechanisms at SENER, Fernando Artigas, described Rivacoba as “a Renaissance engineer of our time” and listed his virtues as an engineer, such as his big-picture view of problems and solutions, his meticulous and in-depth analysis of issues and his nature as an engineer devoted to technical aspects “in other words, the generation of ideas, designs and products. Bureaucracy: just the essentials, at the very most.” And he added: “His work has been more focused on certain branches and technologies: Mechanisms, Machines and Structures, for very diverse applications: Public works, industrial building, machinery, maintenance, transport, solar, space and engines. But his training in the areas of energy and civil engineering adds to his knowledge even more. That’s why he’s been a Consultant with a capital C and underlined.”

Rafael Fuldain pointed out that “Txetxu at the age of 20, 30, 40 and 50 came to his work as a pioneering engineer (…) for years he was a talent hunter, but above all, a mentor” and added that Txetxu “defended the value of Engineers as individuals, of creativity, of ideas and know-how, of design and method”.

Fernando del Campo emphasized the generosity that Txetxu Rivacoba has always shown. He had him first as a teacher and then as a boss in SENER, where he was again more of a teacher: “He always listened to other people’s opinions and took them on if he thought they were more suitable for solving a problem. And because Txetxu is a man of diverse knowledge and many interests (…) he was our teacher not just of engineering but in topics relating to history, geography, linguistics, literature (…). Naturally, this relationship also led to friendship and because of the age difference and the interest and generosity that Txetxu showed in the way he helped us out with everything, even with our personal lives, he became a father figure for us.”

The Managing Director of SENER, Jorge Unda, who worked on various projects with Rivacoba in the early days, traced the history of SENER through the jobs that Txetxu worked on, highlighting how he helped to grow the company in all three main areas of operation: he was deeply involved in the diversification of the Engineering and Construction area from his position in the naval sector, where he designed cryogenic vessels, and in the industrial section, where he designed port cranes, industrial buildings and energy plants. Also in the area of Civil Infrastructures, he worked on architectural projects such as the Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall; and in Aerospace, he achieved major milestones such as the Kiruna launch tower, SENER’s first space contract. Jorge Unda also highlighted that two of his projects were the beginning of two of SENER’s current departments, namely Aeronautics, and Energy and Environment: the vectorable nozzle for aircraft engines which was to lead to the birth of ITP; and the first heliostats to be installed in Spain, which was the start of SENER’s operations in thermoelectric solar energy, in which it is currently the world leader. “In his work Txetxu was always a creator (…), he gave birth to major projects, always the most difficult ones, the most complicated, always state of the art.” The Managing Director of SENER thanked Rivacoba “for everything you have given us, for everything you have taught us (…) and for the legacy you left and that is still so alive in SENER.”

In his keynote speech, Txetxu Rivacoba touched on four main themes: the people who influenced his training and his career as an engineer, namely his professor Stiepán Timoshenko, and José Manuel de Sendagorta, of whom he said: “Mr. Manuel was the first Spanish engineer to treat me as an equal.” Secondly, he described the training in Russia and in Spain, outlining its similarities and differences. Thirdly, he talked about engineering in Spain and how it evolved from 1957 to 2006. Here, he spoke about the hardships of his return to Spain and his first professional experiences in the country before he came to SENER, “the first true engineering company in Spain that was independent of any industrial company.” And finally, he described what engineering has meant to him, concluding by saying that “it has made my work life so complete, giving me the opportunity to meet so many excellent colleagues and to forge friendships with so many of them, as well as enjoying the knowledge of a job well done and witnessing (…) some amazing feats of engineering. It has allowed me to provide for my family and to travel right across four of the five inhabited continents. I could never have imagined that it would give me so much!”

José Rivacoba’s work has now received the recognition of the Royal Academy of Engineers, but it also largely gave rise to the SENER group as it is today: a solid and multidisciplinary company built around the cornerstone of innovation; a highly successful operator in the areas of Engineering and Construction, Aeronautics and Energy and Environment.

Txetxu Rivacoba’s Biography

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