Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

Archive for the tag “architecture”

Development of Transparent Concrete

litracon 1 Concrete Innovation Part 3: Design transparent inflatable Concrete Cement

Hello everyone! I hope the last couple of weeks has gone well.  I was preoccupied with a small vacation, school stuff, and having to get a new vehicle since my car was totaled.  However, I hope to get back on schedule after this.  Today, I would like to talk about a new development in concrete technology: concrete designed to be transparent.

According to the article by Giatec Scientific, the concrete mixture is modified such that 4 to 15 percent of the mix is fiber optics materials.  Ideas for transparent concrete since 1935; however, serious development had not been pursued until 2001 by Áron Losonczi for use in his architectural designs.  In 2004, production was started for other commercial usage as a type of concrete called “Litracon.”  Since then, other competitors have developed similar designs.  These products have been used with back-lighting or natural light.

I think the concept is very interesting.  It’s something I would probably enjoy working with or using in a design.  The aesthetics would be amazing to see and I like the idea that it could be used in circumstances where you need more stiffness than a big window could provide.  The situation would be similar to structures that use the glass masonry units.  There are however some issues I can see. One is when and where can it be used safely.  The article mentioned examples where it’s used in floors and floors can see a lot of loading in certain types of situations, i.e. stadiums or concert halls.  The other issue I see is behavior of over time.  Will the bonding of the cement hold up in a mixture with that much of a potential void ratio?  Even if it holds up in regards to it’s initial bonding, will the mechanical strength related properties such as creep and general durability such as cracking be reduced?  Along with that, I would imagine the aesthetics have to hold up as well.

What are your thoughts on the idea of transparent concrete?  Is it something that is practical to use in building design?  If you enjoyed the blog post, feel free to like it and share it with your friends.  Thanks for your time and have a good week!


Giatec Scientific, “Concrete Innovation Part 3: Design”,


Benefits of BIM Modeling in Project Pricing for Head Contractors and Subcontractors

     Hello.  How is everyone doing?  Today I would like to discuss the statistical breakdown of the benefits in project pricing BIM modeling can provide for the head contractors and subcontractors involved in the design process.  BIM modeling is something that is collectively touted by most innovators in the building and infrastructure design/build field.  However, it would be helpful to understand who has the most motivation to implement improved BIM modeling.  As stated by David Mitchell, “For different types of projects the people you need to engage, changes. We need to acknowledge that the savings arising out of a building project differs significantly to those of a civil or resource project.  There also needs to be an appreciation of when a construction contract or subcontract is formed as well as the type of construction contract that has been entered into.”  Therefore, the issue is approached in regards to those factors.

For a commercial scale building project, the indirect cost such as design and overhead management amounts to 17% as compared to 83% for the construction costs.  In addition, the ratio of margins between subcontractors and contractors is 7 to 1.  Therefore, it benefits the subcontractors the most to apply the BIM modeling.  However, when a civil project is considered, the head contractor sees most of the benefits because subcontractors only control 17% of the costs.  The resource sector has some interesting statistics as well.  First of all, for a pipeline, the indirect cost is far greater at 45% of the cost going to head contractors.  In addition, the head contractor owns the material production plant/labor and the resulting cost accounts for 83% percent of the other 55% which amounts to an additional 46% of the direct cost and 91% of the overall cost.  Therefore, in this case, the head contractor holds a large portion of the cost control.  However, when building a refinement plant there are some critical differences.  There is a similar level of indirect cost cost at 45%, but the subcontractor sees 88% of the direct cost in this case.  The result is the subcontractor seeing 48% of the cost of the project as compared to 9% in the previous example.

The above statistics are interesting for several reasons.  The first one, as stated in the article, is the fact that BIM modeling is implemented by head contractor and other associated designers; yet in some cases, the subcontractors see the benefits.  Seeing as changes in pricing are based on estimation based on previous projects, pricing benefits aren’t planned for in the budget as efficiently, and, depending on the project and head contractor, a subcontractor could see large and consistent benefits.  This means that the benefits of using BIM might not be maximized aside from time and documentation for the head contractor in that situation.  And if it is a case where head contractors see a large amount of the cost savings, they can more readily pass along the cost saving of BIM modeling. But the subcontractors may not be motivated to help improve the BIM modeling because it doesn’t help their bottom line.  For both of these reason, it makes sense why it is most common for head contractors and designers to push for improvements and BIM modeling.  However, an often overlooked requirement is that the subcontractor needs to work with the head contractor in implementing the improvements and have proper motivation to pass along the savings the see the full benefit for everyone involved with the project.

What is your opinion on BIM model implementation in regards to subcontractors and head contractors?  Are there any ways to promote a shared interest in BIM modeling?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

The Application of Biologically Grown Materials to Building Design

Hello everyone, I hope y’all had good weekend.  Today, I want to talk about some new building materials being researched that are biological produced in a replicable process.  One of the common characteristics is that these materials will involve bacteria or something else derived from organisms.  The fact that these materials don’t require significant carbon output is one major benefit.  Another benefit for most of these materials is that they are actively reproduced over time once they are installed as well.  The building materials are described below with some insight on possible benefits and issues.

bioMason Bricks

The bioMason brick is a brick of sand and cementitious material in which the cementitious material is created using a bacteria.  The brick mixture is created and over the course of 5 days the bacteria solidifies into a coral type material with the strength of a normal brick.  The major benefit for this innovation is that it doesn’t require the heat and raw materials used in creating normal bricks; this reduces the cost of the brick by 40%.  They are currently conducting experiments to research bacteria creation using the following materials: urea, salt and yeast extracts, and seawater.

I see this having one major benefit – it would not significantly change the design and build process for masonry.  Masonry strength is mostly determined by the strength of the mortar as long as the masonry unit strength doesn’t change significantly.  The benefits of the bioMason bricks combined with the low technology change requirement makes this much more effective.

Mushroom Insulation Material

This is a stiff insulation material using plant stalks and husks combined with Mycelium.  There are two forms of application being tested currently: growth inside the wall and spray on insulation.  The insulation is fire resistant and fully compostable.  Additionally, it does not contain formaldehyde or any other harmful organic materials.  This same material can also be used as compostable packaging material.

There are several benefits to this material.  Like before there is no significant change to the other building processes related to it.  It also has great applications outside of this usage alone and is completely compostable once it is not needed anymore.  The only drawback I can potentially see is there being an organic material harmful to humans that is unknown as of yet – similar to what happened with Asbestos. It has great potential overall though – it is my recommendation that more health testing be done before large scale usage.

Self Repairing Concrete:

Research is being conducted on a bacteria that can be used to repair concrete as it ages.  Bacteria engineered to thrive in dry climates is being created to be placed in the concrete mixture.  The bacteria would release Calcium Carbonate as part of the waste process which would fill the holes and cracks over time.

There is one possible major benefit I see – the reduction in maintenance required for the concrete designed this way.  However, more research would be required to determine it’s efficiency.  Additionally, nothing is mentioned about resources and energy required to produce this bacteria; if it requires a high amount of energy and time/raw material resources, it may become impractical to use.  I might also add that the issue of infection might come up here as well; but if the claim is true that it is bacteria that thrives in dry climates, the danger to living organisms would be greatly reduced.

What is your opinion on these possible advancements?  Can you see them being used in the future?  Thank you for your time and have a good week!


Wollenhaupt, Gary,”Self-Repairing Concrete Could be the Future of Green Building”, Forbes Online, January 6, 2014,

The New “Flying Carpet” Roof For the Courtyard at the Musée de Louvre

Hello everyone.  I hope your holidays have gone well so far if they started. If not, cram as much fun with your family into the next week.  Today I decided to not post a lengthy or detailed article.  I just wanted to share something cool I just read about today. The Musée de Louvre has recently completed construction on a roof over a courtyard area that literally looks like a flying carpet.

The concept of having a design like this is extremely impressive.  Not only that, there was a lot of coordination and change of work late in the process to insure the architect achieved the desired look.  This is the type of project I would love to work on…very challenging and technical with coordination and team work being a necessity.  In fact, it’s so technical I’m not going to even try to explain the details.  The basic design is a steel frame with various pieces of glass that vary in size and thickness so as to withstand the stress placed on the glass.  The glass is curved and tinted so that it literally looks like a flying carpet and is supported by slender pinned end supports placed such that lateral movements are resisted.  All of this required highly technical computer analysis and was very impressive to read about.  I definitely recommend finding the reference below or finding more information about it if you are a structural engineer.  Below are some photos I found that show new roof structure.

What are your thoughts on the roof?  If you were in Paris, would the Louvre be a place you had to visit to see this structure?  Please share if you find this article interesting and subscribe if you want to read more.  Thanks for your time and have a good week off. 🙂


Bucci, Pierluigi, “Flying Carpet”, Civil Engineering Magazine, June 2013, pg 49

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!

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!

Post Navigation