Civil engineering is noble too!

This has reference to the Point of View "Civil engineering is noble too!" by Dr N. Subramanian published in the September 2000 issue (pp. 507-508) of your Journal. Every word of Dr Subramanian’s "point of view" deserves full support. There is in fact a fatal discrepancy between the image of civil engineers and their role in society. Without civil engineering there would be no civilisation.

I believe that beyond what Dr Subramanian said there is one further important reason for this discrepancy. We tend to neglect our cultural responsibility —we miss the chance to invest in our bridges, towers, roof structures, industrial plants, etc,. beyond our technical knowledge and experience our creative fantasy. Thus, we miss the best part of our profession: to conceive and form our structures from a cultural point of view. The only equivalent to built-up nature is culture.

Even though an infrastructure may be technically and functionally perfect it is only through culture that it integrates into civilisation. We engineers must insist that art and culture are indivisible. Not only public buildings, banks and museums, deserve public attention, for example, in the form of design competitions, but also other structures. Bridges, which are often much larger and imposing than buildings, be it in an urban (flyovers) or natural context (viaducts), should not be selected on the basis of least cost.

In the public opinion civil engineering is neither high-tech nor creative. But in fact it is both, more than any other profession.

We should not accept that inspite of all the admirable scientific and technical progress from materials through computer assistance to robot manufacture, our structures lack in beauty and variety, all standard, clumsy and ugly, not really reflecting that progress. This gap is evident especially in India with its unique historic architecture and art.

A profession which appears grey and low-tech will today neither attract public financial support for research and education nor young and creative talent which is worse. To be attractive for the rising generation, a practical profession today must either be high-tech (physics, electronics, aeronautics, biotechnics...) or artistically creative (movies, music, fashion, architecture ...), apart from the exhibitive alternative (politics, events, sports...).

It appears that in the public opinion civil engineering is neither high-tech nor creative. But in fact it is both, more than any other profession!

While designing structures should, scientific and intuitive influences should combine reamlessly. Structural art is impossible without both knowledge and fantasy. Quality can only result from a truly holistic approach. Therefore civil engineering will appeal to scientific and creative talent as well — if we reanimate our cultural responsibility! If we neglect the cultural aspect, we remain what we are, grey technocrats. If we neglect the scientific-technical aspect, we get what is praised incidently on pp. 509-510 of the same issue of The Indian Concrete Journal (Review of a book titled "What is a Bridge..... The Making of Calatrava's Bridge in Seville" - Editor). This is the other extreme, unacceptable as well. No, a bird is a bird and a bridge a bridge. And if such a bridge costs Rs 2.2 lakhs/m2, it is unsociable and irresponsible, not at all able to outstrip the works of Maillart, Torroja, Candela, Nervi, because they were able to create structural art in its true sense by combining both aspects with their social responsibility bearing society in mind. After all, the ultimate goal of structural design is to provide the adequate aesthetic expression for the most perfect and the most efficient technical and functional solution.

Prof Dr Ing Jörg Schlaich

Director, Institute for Structural Design
University of Struttgart & Partner
Hohenzollernstr. 1
D-70178 Stuttgart,
Germany


 

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