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Petroski on Engineering: Everyone Loves Good Design

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Beth Stackpole
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Awed by bridge design
Beth Stackpole   9/10/2012 6:33:42 AM
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Bridges are indeed a great example of great engineering combined with great design. I live in the Boston area and was witness to the whole development effort around the Zakim Bridge, which indeed permanantly altered the Boston skyline. It's always amazed me how engineers are not only able to come up with these unique architectural designs, but more critically, buy off the engineering feat to actually bring them to life.

Jennifer Campbell
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Re: Awed by bridge design
Jennifer Campbell   9/10/2012 11:00:07 AM
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I have been fascinated/terrified by bridges since I was young. My fascination started in high school when we were tasked in a physics class to build a bridge out of dry spaghetti and glue. The test was to see how many bricks our teacher could hang from the bridge before it cracked. I can't remember how many bricks my bridge held, but I do remember drawing designs and working with my dad to test out different ideas.

My love for bridges was indeed renewed the first time I visited San Francisco. Walking along the Golden Gate Bridge was exhilarating.

Of course, there are the awful stories about bridges failing -- Minnesota bridge collapse, the Boston (where I'm from) nightmare called the Big Dig. For this reason, I also hold my breath when driving across these spans.

Mydesign
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Re: Awed by bridge design
Mydesign   9/10/2012 11:55:28 PM
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Beth, I think among bridges, construction of hanging bridges are harder and require complex structural designs. The entire structure has to be balanced over the hanging rope and the structural engineers has to possess a good set of design skills for weight balancing.

kenish
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Re: Awed by bridge design
kenish   9/11/2012 11:42:08 PM
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On vacation in Canada last week I came across the construction site for the new Port Mann bridge in the eastern suburbs of Vancouver.  It's a cable-stayed bridge that will replace the old steel arch bridge.  The contrast between the two bridges is striking...they are both beautiful and utilize the technology, materials, construction techniques, and aesthetic of their respective eras.

Here's a progressive set of photos that show how the bridge is being built...the last page really contrasts the two designs.  http://urbantoronto.ca/forum/showthread.php/8411-New-Port-Mann-Bridge-(Surrey-Coquitlam-BC)

 Good to see some countries are using their money to upgrade infrastructure instead of bailing out CEOs and union bosses.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Awed by bridge design
Beth Stackpole   9/12/2012 7:09:40 AM
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While I know investing in infrastructure has become some what of a political hot button, there is investment in that area at least where I live, close to the Altantic and where a major river criss-crosses at numerous points. We've had a number of bridges close for long periods of time (the inconvenience is another story) to be renovated and while it's not as exciting and sexy as the Golden Gate or some of the new bridge projects referenced, it is worthwhile engineering. Even some of these smaller projects are pushing innovation. Check out this story Ann did on a bridge made with recycled plastics.

 

 

DanSchwartz
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Iron
But beautiful design can happen by accident
DanSchwartz   9/25/2012 1:02:27 PM
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One of the most stunning bridges in the world is the George Washington Bridge, spanning the Hudson between Fort Lee NJ and the upper section of Manhattan, with it's unique exposed tower superstructure, peeking over the trees as you drive south at the end of the Palisades Parkway, or welcoming you home with it's spectacular lighting as an old friend after a long day driving on I-80.

But, what is not well known is that the distinctive design of the GWB was, in fact, an accident: While the massive double-decked bridge was being built, they ran out of money for the exterior stone cladding. So, the question arose, "can we do without it?" and the structural Engineers went back to work, recalculating the loads, and the answer was a resounding YES!

And that is how one of America's most iconic bridges came to be, as fate would have it~

naperlou
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myraid of bridge types
naperlou   9/10/2012 12:04:54 PM
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I would certianly agree that many bridges are interesting and beautiful.  I am often more impressed by design of practical things than of objects that are formally called art.  If you ever get a chance to look at an integrated circuit under an electron microsocpe you find something incredibly beautiful in its own way. 

As for bridges, I had an opportunity to walk inside of post tensioned cast-in-place concrete box girder structure just before it was completed.  The spans started from both sides of the river and met in the middle.  Getting that right was quite a feat.  We were about 200 feet above the river with this ten foot gap in front of us.  I was a little scary, but wonderful.  Indisde the span were the cables and other structure of the bridge.  While few would ever see it, it was intersting in its own way.  I'm glad I got a chance to see it.

NadineJ
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inspiring future engineers
NadineJ   9/10/2012 3:00:01 PM
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I'm a little spoiled living in San Francisco. I know the Gold Gate Bridge very well. Watching the construction of the new Bay Bridge is exciting. Some of the engineering feats (eg, buildong a new curved ramp leading the the tunnel, cutting out the old part of the bridge and replacing it with the new piece) have been awesome to watch.

One of my favourite bridges is in Washington state over Deception Pass.  It's hard to drive across without wanting to stop.  Luckily, there are little parking lots on both ends.

Mydesign
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Building and Bridge Designs
Mydesign   9/10/2012 11:44:24 PM
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Henry, most of the ancient bridges, buildings and monuments are look very nicely. We have to really appreciate the designs and the brain behind such projects. Lotus building in Australia, Statue of liberty in US, trade center at burgee Dubai, twin tower at Singapore etc are some of the examples for such brilliant works.

notarboca
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Re: Building and Bridge Designs
notarboca   9/11/2012 12:30:24 AM
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I have always appreciated the design and appearance of the ancient Roman bridges and aqueducts. The Sunshine Skyway in Tampa is one of my favorite cable-stayed bridges.

Mydesign
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Re: Building and Bridge Designs
Mydesign   9/13/2012 12:09:34 AM
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Notarboca, what type of bridges you like most. The ancient type with brilliant art work of structural engineers or the modern bridges made of steel and concrete mix. The ancient bridges are of excellent master piece works of great engineers. They built it in a very nice way, without the help of structural engineering tools and software for stability analyzes.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Building and Bridge Designs
Ann R. Thryft   9/13/2012 2:45:49 PM
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I think Mydesign has an excellent point: ancient engineers built amazing, beautiful structures, many of which have lasted hundreds or thousands of years, without any of today's sophisticated design tools. In fact, many prehistorians are still arguing about just how some of the oldest ones got designed and built, meaning what tools the engineers actually had in the way of mathematics and physical tools such as a string and chalk for laying out some of the more sophisticated megalithic monuments.

bobjengr
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Re: Building and Bridge Designs
bobjengr   9/15/2012 2:55:56 PM
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  Ann, I agree completely.  In 2009 my wife and I traveled to Madrid to celebrate our 40th anniversary.    While there, we took a side trip to visit Toledo, an ancient city with many extrodanary structures, one being an aqueduct running close to three miles in length.  The workmanship was stunning and how the engineers accomplished the uniform downward slope with the tools they had at their disposal amazes me.  The stones were all laid by hand, each one carefully placed. Thousands upon thousands of carefully cut and placed stones.    I would love to climb into Mr. Peabody's way-back machine just to see how some of these ancient monuments were constructed.  It would certainly be a real treat.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Building and Bridge Designs
Ann R. Thryft   9/17/2012 12:14:56 PM
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Bob, those aqueducts that have lasted 2000-plus years are pretty amazing, aren't they? I've seen lots of good illustrations that show how they work, but none about the exact building methods used. Does anyone else know any?

Mydesign
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Re: Building and Bridge Designs
Mydesign   9/17/2012 11:35:51 PM
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Ann, our ancient civil engineers and draftsman had done excellent works in designing and building bridges and roads without any analytical and design software/tools. They had used their brain and skills to complete the task, without depending any man made tools. In my country we had a more than a dozen of bridges built by the great British engineers in 19th century. Still most of them are in good condition and public is widely using it and some other are protecting as heritage monuments.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Building and Bridge Designs
Ann R. Thryft   9/18/2012 12:12:02 PM
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Mydesign, if I remember correctly, you're in India, right? That country has some incredibly well-built, very ancient public structures and multi-story houses in Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa I've read about (and seen reconstructions of), from the Indus Valley civilization of a few thousand years ago. I don't know if they are still standing, fully or partially, but from the archaeological reconstructions I've seen they were both beautiful and well-engineered.

warren@fourward.com
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Beautiful Designs
warren@fourward.com   9/20/2012 4:30:45 PM
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I learned early on that looks are important!  Packaging can make the difference between success and failure.  Look at the auto industry.  Ugly only sells if it's REALLY ugly, otherwise, it's an Edsel.

I looked at the disassembly of the iPad and marvelled at how it was so carefully and artistically put together.  It is a work of art and Apple has overflowed its bank accounts.

I am not artistic, but I know how to hire the artistic types and work with them to put things together right.  It is worth the money!

Mydesign
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Re: Building and Bridge Designs
Mydesign   9/21/2012 12:42:12 AM
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Ann, you are right. Whatever the things possible are preserved and keeping as monuments by the archeological department. Apart from Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, all the buildings with more than 100 years old are preserving by government and archeological departments, irrespective of it's a private or public building.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Building and Bridge Designs
Ann R. Thryft   9/21/2012 12:29:05 PM
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Mydesign, thanks for that info. I'm glad to know that India has such a strong program of historical monument preservation, since there are so many periods of its history with beautiful architecture. I learned about those buildings, as well as the amazing civic planning of those ancient cities, many years ago and was impressed by the intelligence and beauty of the designs and of the engineering in such a distant past.

William K.
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Platinum
Good design :Bridges
William K.   9/13/2012 8:17:04 PM
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I just visited the arch bridge over the New River Gorge in West Virginia, where We went across the bridge on the catwalk below the deck. That is a very interesting tour. It is difficult to grasp the magnitude of the structure until you see it that close up. All of that steel loaded in compression is an awsome thing indeed.

The bridges with structual elements in tesion are also amazing, but it is clear that they require a great deal more attention and maintenance to remain safe, since tensile failure modes are usually much faster than compressive failure modes, at least that is my understanding. It would be quite educational to have an explanation of how corrosive failure of the suspension elements is prevented.

Ann R. Thryft
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Blogger
Re: Good design :Bridges
Ann R. Thryft   9/14/2012 1:09:29 PM
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I grew up not far from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, with a 4,200-foot suspension span built in 1937. Regular painting is done to prevent corrosion, and those paint jobs are the main form of maintenance, according to this site:
http://goldengatebridge.org/research/facts.php

Scott Orlosky
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Re: Good design :Bridges
Scott Orlosky   9/16/2012 2:46:34 PM
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I have add in my two cent to this architectural love-fest on bridges.  There is something magical about the way they "work" without actually "doing" anything.  Sort of like the human equivalent of a spider's web - constantly balancing forces through a series of aesthetic arcs and supports.  All in plain view. Thanks for highlighting these marvels of engineering.

DanSchwartz
User Rank
Iron
But beautiful design can happen by accident, too
DanSchwartz   9/25/2012 1:03:40 PM
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One of the most stunning bridges in the world is the George Washington Bridge, spanning the Hudson between Fort Lee NJ and the upper section of Manhattan, with it's unique exposed tower superstructure, peeking over the trees as you drive south at the end of the Palisades Parkway, or welcoming you home with it's spectacular lighting as an old friend after a long day driving on I-80.

But, what is not well known is that the distinctive design of the GWB was, in fact, an accident: While the massive double-decked bridge was being built, they ran out of money for the exterior stone cladding. So, the question arose, "can we do without it?" and the structural Engineers went back to work, recalculating the loads, and the answer was a resounding YES!

And that is how one of America's most iconic bridges came to be, as fate would have it~

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