Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

Archive for the month “November, 2013”

Should Engineering Departments Offer an Engineering History Course?

     Hello everyone. I hope your week went well. Today I want to pose an interesting question that has to do with engineering education.  It is common for most colleges to have an architectural history course and most architects would argue that there are some valid benefits in having a course like that.  I recently read an article in Structural Engineer Magazine – “Is Engineering History Missing in Our Education?”, pg 26, – that made me wonder if we need a course like that.

The article says “Ask an architecture student to list who they believe to be the most influential and iconic architects to have ever lived and the list will surely be lengthy.” I would also have to agree with that statement.  Architects definitely get a better education in the history of their profession and critical advancements in its practice.  And one can argue that the public knows more about the profession’s history as well, even if they might not know much about the technical advances.  The same cannot be said about structural engineering.  Look at this list from the article and see how many architects you recognize: Michelangelo, Antoni Gaudi, Frank Gehry, and Frank Lloyd Wright.  Now look at this list from the article and see how many structural engineers you recognize: James Buchanan Eads, Theodore Cooper, the Roeblings, John Alexander Low Wadell, Gustav Lindenthal, Othmar Hermann Ammann, Joseph Strauss, Robert Mailart, David Bernard Steinman, and Santiago Calatrava.  I recognize more of the architects and I’m a structural engineering student.

The author of the article believes that it is important to know the history of the engineering profession and of our past failures/advancements.  I would also have to agree.  But more than just that, I think that it is important that the public in general know about our history and advancements.  One of the more annoying questions that I get asked by people when I explain what I do is “So you want to do architecture?”, and they honestly don’t realize that they are two completely different fields of building design.  I recently read an article by Fast Company Magazine online ( which had an article about high wind load design for buildings that only used architects as their references.  It is my honest opinion that if we did more as structural engineers to have a basic elective course in college covering this topic, and educate the public in general, there would be more understanding about what we do.

Do you think that there should be a structural engineering history course?  Would you take that course instead of something like architectural history?  Have you also experienced a misunderstanding of what you do as part of your profession by non-engineering types?  Please share this post if you find it interesting and follow me if you want to read more of my blog posts.  Thanks for your time and have a good week!


Applying Modular Building Designs to Tall Buildings

Hello everyone.  I hope you have been doing well.  Today, I would like to talk about the recent trend of expanding modular design to new types of buildings.  Previously I wrote a blog post on the possibility of using small modular nuclear reactors to expand our energy production.(  Now, there is a example of a modular design used in a 32 floor building in New York, as discussed by Fast Company Online. (  The are several benefits outlined in the article; and I can also see several further advantages and disadvantages as well.

The building is called the B2 building and was developed by Forest City Ratner.  It will have apartments varying in size from 450 to 950 sq ft. Everything including the kitchen appliances and bathroom are built off site and the plumbing connections are the only parts constructed on site using snap together pieces.  The assembly line combined with the accelerated schedule concept are applied to speed up construction time.  FCR claims that the total construction time for the project is 18 months, a 1/3 reduction of the normal time required for conventional construction.  They also claim that they will reduce construction cost and material waste by 70% to 90%.  Modular design has been common since World War II in buildings such as low rise schools, hospitals, and government buildings.  It is only recently that modular design has been considered for other projects.  FCR says they will dedicate 50% of the apartments to affordable housing.  The modular system will be supported by a steel braced system and a conventional foundation.  When put into place, the modular units are connected with rubber sealant.  The system is built within a 1/8 in tolerance limit – similar to what you would find in air craft engines and some areas of the car industry.  The article describes this as the start of transition to a new way of thinking about tall building design.

I see several advantages to this. The main one is the reduced cost and construction time.  With experience and time, I believe we will see the same benefits found with using prestressed modular concrete design for highway structures.  I also see potential for having your module be customizeable in the future.  Having people pay in advance for specific features and appliances from a predetermined selection can be a good way to increase funding.  However, I also see some drawbacks.  Designs need to be carefully checked in regards to meeting load requirement depending on a change of location.  The need to meet those requirements may make it more difficult apply large scale modular design to this process.  And then there is the issue of how this compares to future developments.  I previously wrote a blog post about Mass Timber design and how it is being used when sustainability is a concern. (  There is always going to be competition from other methods, materials and designers.  If the number of projects it is used on is reduced, it would limit the benefits from it’s modular design on a larger scale as well.

What are your opinions on modular design?  Do you think this design method will become more common for tall buildings in the future?  Be sure follow me and share my articles if you enjoy the content.  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

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