Structural engineering is often seen as solely reams of calculations and consequently the profession and engineering degrees are viewed as dull. To help counter this (false) perception, I have been working with two undergraduates, Divij and Essam, this summer to develop large, public and interactive “sculptures” to communicate structural concepts in a natural and engaging manner.
Models have a long traditional of being used to communicate structural understanding, from Barlow’s arch model, to Sir Benjamin Baker’s Forth Bridge human model, to more recent teaching models, including those already developed by Adrian Bell and Tianjian at the University of Manchester that won the IStructE Excellence in Higher Education prize in 2014.What we are trying to do now is develop the model concept to a point where, in addition to an educational aim, models have an aesthetic and artistic value and become sculpture. As a result, the sculptures can be prominently displayed so casual interaction and education become possible.
At the moment we are looking at developing models that illustrate some key structural ideas that are difficult to “get” from mathematics alone, for example how trusses behave (are members in tension or compression?); the need for bracing in several planes in 3-d frames; and the relationship between arches and cable structures. After a visit to BurroHappold’s offices today we have lots of ideas and expect to have the first complete sculpture, ready for prodding and climbing on, displayed within MACE towards the end of the summer.