Engineering as an art form

The effective start of modern building may be defined as the construction of the Pantheon in Rome, in 120 ad, Figure 1.14. This building exhibits engineering design in the modern sense. The roof is a 44 m diameter spherical concrete dome, resting on concrete walls that are some 30 m high. In order to reduce the thrust of the roof, it is made of lightweight concrete, of which the density reduces towards the crown. Also, the underside of the roof is relieved by caissons, which fulfil the three roles of saving materials, reducing weight and hence the thrust on the walls, while maintaining stiffness, and decorating the interior.

The walls are 6 m thick, in plain dense concrete. Near their base they are relieved by chapels on their inside face, made within their thickness. Again, these chapels have multiple functions, economising on materials, displacing the centroid of the wall outwards to improve its resistance to the thrust of the roof, providing a useful facility and decorating the temple. The upper lifts of the wall are more massive, the weight helping to resist the roof thrust.

Thus the appearance of this building is critically integrated with the engineering concept, and in the author's opinion constitutes an art form which David Billington [2] has called 'structural art'. This form of art depends on an engineering understanding of the forces acting on the structure and the expression of these forces.

The design of the great mediaeval cathedrals shows a similar fusing of form and function, where the roles of architect and engineer had not yet been separated, Figure 1.15. Viollet-le-Duc, commenting in his Dictionnaire de l'architecture française on the design of these cathedrals, coined the phrase 'architecture raisonée', which might be translated as 'analytical architecture'. This concept is appropriate to the design of bridges, as described in the previous sections of this chapter.

As in any form of art, there is a continuum between the multitude of artisans, and the small minority who reach the summits of skill and inspiration, who are known as artists. There is no clear dividing line between the superb artisan and the artist, but great artists are acknowledged as such by most people.

The young engineer who is designing the reinforcement for 100 pile caps for a long viaduct may not see himself as a future artist. However, depending on how he goes about this design, he may well be preparing himself for much more creative engineering later in his career. He can do a boring, routine job, or alternatively there are many ways in which he can carry out these mundane tasks creatively. For instance, he can think about the mechanism whereby the vertical loads and bending moments are transferred from the pier stem to the piles, he can compare strut-and-tie solutions to classical bending theory, reconcile his understanding of good engineering with the stipulations of the code of practice, question the purpose of each bar, find reinforcement arrangements that minimise off-cuts and waste and he can create a modular reinforcing cage that expands easily with the span and depth of the pile cap.

There must of course be a chief designer who oversees his tasks, and who sets the tone of the type of design he expects. If this chief designer is interested in producing a design of quality, he will be prompting his assistant to think creatively about his task, and giving him ideas to refine and develop. Although the majority of such chief designers will never aspire to being recognised as artists, the best will.

It is common that artists are not recognised as such in their own lifetimes; it is often in hindsight that their qualities are put in perspective and given the accolades

Figure 1.14 Pantheon, Rome: drawing by Thomas Hardwick, 1777 (Courtesy of RIBA)
Figure 1.15 Beauvais Cathedral (Courtesy of the ICE)
Figure 1.16 Saltash Bridge by Brunel (Courtesy of the ICE)
Figure 1.17 Palazzetto dello Sport by Nervi (Source: Enrico Hoepli, Tav XCVI of Costruire Correttamente by Pier Luigi Nervi)
Figure 1.18 Salginatobel Bridge by Maillart (Courtesy: Madame Marie-Claire Blumer-Maillart)

they deserve. Who would now deny the exceptional quality of some of the structures designed by Brunel, Figure 1.16, Nervi, Figure 1.17, or Maillart, Figure 1.18. These are works of art, but they are the work of engineers; they could not have been carried out by architects without engineering training.

If the artistic content of engineering were to be more generally understood, the language of the appreciation of engineering would change; it would become obvious that the training of engineering designers must be more than just technical; that this training should include components that develop creativity and imagination. A wider range of skills would be attracted into engineering, less mathematical, more visionary.

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Getting Started With Dumbbells

Getting Started With Dumbbells

The use of dumbbells gives you a much more comprehensive strengthening effect because the workout engages your stabilizer muscles, in addition to the muscle you may be pin-pointing. Without all of the belts and artificial stabilizers of a machine, you also engage your core muscles, which are your body's natural stabilizers.

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