Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

The Overlap of the Architectural and Engineering Design Process

Hello everyone.  I hope you and your family had a good Thanksgiving.  My family in Texas got together for the first time since my Aunt Nana passed away, so it was good to have everyone back together again.  Today, I want to pose another question related to architecture.  I got to thinking about topics at the last minute and I was reading my previous weeks post.  It got me wondering if I could find some quotes that outline the overlap of engineering and architecture.  The format I’m going to go use is the following: bring in a quote, then interpret what I think it means and close by posing a question as to your thoughts on it.

The first quote I am going to have immediately came to mind when I thought about this topic.  It is a famous one and a classic amongst engineers:

“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Even though this doesn’t mention architects or engineers, I started with this because it outlines the main goal of an engineer.  Come up with the simplest and most effective system for building a safe structure.  Efficiency can take many forms (money, material, time, etc.); whatever we define efficient as, that is usually our goal.  And the interesting thing is that architecture has recently trended towards this same thing in modern city design.  And yet the classic concept of architecture is to make a structure pretty and artistic; efficiency was considered low on the list of concerns based on the buildings with a heavy architectural design influence over 100 years ago.  Where do you see the trend going and how has efficiency played into the design process for architects?

Another quote I found is interesting because it casts this efficiency in a negative perspective:

“I had a lot of trouble with engineers, because their whole background is learning from a functional point of view, and then learning how to perform that function.”

– Briano Eno

He is a famous musician and artist, and I would imagine that he is what we would call the classic creative personality – whimsical and artsy.  Engineering from this negative perspective alone would make one think that we just lead dull boring careers and do nothing interesting with the buildings we design.  Most engineers knows that this not always the case, but I could see some of our work falling into this category.  However, when combined with an architect who has a flair for the creative, it can allow us to apply the concept of learning a function and performing that function to a whole new level.  It can force us to design structures that use that function in unique way and exercise our problem solving creativity.  Have you ever had to use some creativity to solve a problem in your field? How often do you have to do so and how important is it?

Now I am going to bring in two quotes that combine to have an interesting message.

“We require from buildings two kinds of goodness: first, the doing their practical duty well: then that they be graceful and pleasing in doing it.”

– John Ruskini

“Architecture begins where engineering ends.”

-Walter Gropius

Both of these quotes have a combined message that architecture is critical in making a structure complete.  Not only do structures need to fulfill their purpose but they need to look good and be pleasing to the users.  And not only that, architects are the ones who do this.  That engineers are the boring ones who make it function and architects are responsible for the creativity.  I strongly disagree – there are many times I have listened to a engineers talk about a project and they talk about their input on the creative work they have done with the architects.  A lot of times it is in taking what an architect has drawn up and come up with a modification just as aesthetically appealing.  And sometimes, the engineers themselves play the dominant role, as shown with the recent trend of having landmark bridges in cities.  Who do you think is the most important person as far as creativity in the design is concerned? Why is that?

And finally I would like to end on a humorous yet enlightening quote.

“Engineers like to solve problems.  If there are no problems handily available, they will create their own problems”

– Scott Adams

For me, this outlines exactly the unique function engineers bring to any process.  We may seem narrow minded and boring, but for the most, we believe that there is always a better a way to design something.  The need for efficiency in regards to time, money, and material bring us to an end result.  However, this unique idea that there is always a problem to be solved drives a good engineer.  How often do you see yourself exhibiting this trait? Is it usually in a positive or negative aspect?

I hope you enjoyed the far less than technical post this week and didn’t find it too pedantic.  Please share this post if you find it interesting and follow me if you want to read more of my blog posts.  Thank you for your time and have a good week!

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