January 1, 2007
Powers of 10
Two leading structural engineers pick their favorite feats of man-made wonder.
There were structural engineers long before there was even a name for them. Throughout history, whenever human beings have attempted to build on a massive or merely complicated scale, someone handled the engineer’s job: figuring out how a temple or a bridge or a great wall might be constructed and, more important, how it could withstand the primal and unrelenting laws of gravity. For most of recorded time this was done without technical assistance, either by hand or by semi-educated guess. And while much is made today about the merging of architecture and engineering, history’s great master builders were all designer-engineers.
In recent decades, however, the nature of the discipline has been radically altered by computer modeling. Technology continues to advance, and the learning curve for engineers gets exponentially steeper. Architects push the boundaries of structural logic (or at least appear to), and engineers respond, largely because technology has enabled them to. But there is still a great deal to be learned by looking back.
To that end we invited Leslie E. Robertson, the éminence grise of American engineering, and Craig Schwitter, a partner in the New York office of Buro Happold, to share with us their ten favorite feats of engineering. – M.P.