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Why do students become engineers?

The Timesonline had a recent article about the current crop of architectural students studying at the  Bartlett School of Architecture at University College, London.

The article gives some insight into the motivations behind becoming an architect.

So, what do you go into architecture for? Iain Borden, the head at Bartlett, puts much of the rise down to the Grand Designs factor. “Architecture is much more visible nowadays,” he says. “It’s on the TV. Icon projects are a factor. Students see them on adverts or on holiday. People such as Norman Foster are household names.”

Allen agrees. “We get students at 18 who all like Foster and the Guggenheim in Bilbao and Santiago Calatrava. Architecture is a bit cool. But it’s also a career, so the parents like it too. Everyone’s happy.”

After reading the article my thoughts naturally wandered to the question of why engineering? I became an engineer partly because my father is an engineer, partly for the  money but mostly for the sense of accomplishment. It is one of my biggest thrills to see a project that I designed, built and used.

Looking back when I first started I had not heard of any other engineers beside my father. I saw that he had a keen mind and I could sense his immense satisfaction in his work. He loved to point out his projects to us and you could tell how proud he was of his designs.

I was wondering if an article was written about “why engineering”, if students would  mention engineering role models?  (I’m not sure they could.)

So, why do students become engineers?

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Pedestrian Day

Tomorrow is pedestrian bridge day in Calgary. It is the day the CMLC annouces their choice for the top (five?) remaining designs.

I wonder how the final bridge will be chosen? I would imagine the finalists have to give presentations on their designs to the public (CMLC?) and then some kind of voting will take place? Will they have to work out their designs to a more complete stage?

Some of them did not show how they would connect to the island or materials, member sizes, finishes, lighting, landscaping, construction technique, etc….Let me go out on a limb and say the winning bridge will eventually came in over budget….(HA, cynical much?)

Hey, below is the power of the internet. Vistors to this blog from all over the world, thanks for that!


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Off Topic

Not much original content lately, it seems pretty slow in the bridge world. (No recent Calatrava surprises, etc….)

I have also been working on some consulting projects, on an old truck I bought and practicing my computer rendering skills. (I am sure you were all worried that I didn’t have enough to do…and yes I spend time with the family.)

My next step is to update my consulting website and look for more interesting work. (I am hoping for some more open bridge competitions to come up, they are just fun to think about!)

Maybe I should start some bridge concept competitions to help develop some design skills? Anybody want to sponsor a competition? Anybody want to try a competition? Google are you out there!

Night scene practice
Night scene practice
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Recent Bridge News

New Danish pedestrian bridge coming, dubbed “The Kissing Bridge“, to Copenhagen. (My parents are danish so I like hearing news from Denmark.)

I wish the images were bigger, I am not sure what it actually looks like….

The South waterfront pedestrian bridge came in over budget. Don’t you hate when that happens….

credit - ch2mhill

A pedestrian bridge collapsed in Lagos a couple of weeks ago. It looks like it was hit by a “tipper” which I believe means a dump truck?

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Bridge competitions


Well the short listing of the Calgary pedestrian bridge concepts will be announced this Friday. It will be interesting to see who makes the final cut because I am not really sure what the process is for choosing the top concepts. How the finalists develop their concepts further and finally how they pick the winner is also a little murky.

I think, for the most part, the Calgary bridge competition was a fair and open competition. I like that fact that newcomers had a chance to show their work (except for those who can’t follow the entry rules, sigh) and I think posting all the entrants was a great idea. The next step will be a little harder, convincing Calgarians the winning bridge is worth $25 million. (Calatrava must be very happy that the second bridge took the spotlight off of his design. )

Four Mile Run:

I received an email back from this competition acknowledging their question form was indeed on the fritz. I then asked my questions from a previous post, budget, etc. (No word back yet.)

This is a very different kind of competition, where the top three finalists will be picked based upon their prior work. DOTs do this all the time but I don’t think this will lead to any groundbreaking designs. (which is probably they way they want it.) Obviously, I prefer the style of competition found in Calgary, where anyone had a chance to win, not just the big boys.

The question remains which style of competition produces the best bridge? The final Calgary bridge may never be built if the winner is found to be way over budget in the end. (Read the Happy Pontist about how many signature bridges get built.) The Four mile bridge will definitely be built but I doubt it will be a signature bridge.

Maybe that is the answer, if you want the brass ring try a wide open competition, if you want a bridge built, pick the firms first….what do you think?

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Tower Crane

From the “you learn something new everyday” file, how to set up a tower crane. (Note: the background music is loud! But it is a clear video)

When I was 14 I used to drive large cranes to move precast around our yard. It must have been scary to see a 14 year old behind the glass when you are holding onto a 5 ton concrete panel…

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Historic Bridges

I was surfing around and found a couple of interesting bridge website.

lenticular truss, Pauli truss

The first one,, administered by Bruce S. Cridlebaugh, has a great overview of basic bridge designs.

photo of bridge

Pittsburgh has some of the greatest historic bridges in the world and the website has a lot of great pictures.

I also looked at this website,, a site dedicated to saving our historic bridges. It even provides powerpoint presentations to help educate the public and fight the loss of historic bridges. The site is administered by Nathan Holth.

Miami Bridge

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The Bridges

I brought home the book, “Santiago Calatrava The Bridges”, by Alexander Tzonis & Rebeca Caso Donadei, last night from the University library. It is full of images of Calatrava’s bridge designs (obviously) but a few things stood out to me after a quick browse.

One, the sheer whiteness of the bridges! How does he get all the elements so white? When I was in the precast industry we used a lot of iron oxide dyes to color our products. (I would go home completely red) The dyes worked well but because of changing moisture in the mixes we would experience color variations in different concrete batches. (I tried using an earth color for a bridge pier and the different ready-mix concrete loads were fairly apparent in the final product, so we moved to stains.),-CA--m.jpg
Photo Credit - Marcel Marchon

Two, round concrete surfaces. Some of the bridges I have designed had some unique and changing surfaces. But a whole bridge of rounded and flowing corners must have been a bear to form up for the contractor! (You can see my engineering bias shinning through.) I am very impressed by the concrete workmanship on his bridges. Yes, paint can hide a lot but the closeups in the book show some real attention to detail.

And finally the “thickness” of the bridges. When you look closer at some of the bridge elements on his bridges they seem to be very deep and solid. The images I have typically seen show his bridges from a distance. Since I have never experienced a “Calatrava” in person, I have never got a sense of the size of the bridge elements involved in his designs.

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Four Mile Run Bridge (Not) Competition

I emailed a couple of questions to the Four Mile Bridge Competition,  but no response yet.

Reading the competition requirements more closely, the steps are.

  1. Submit evidence you have the experience to design a bridge
  2. We will be the judge of that…
  3. Now three of you will get to submit bridge concepts and we will choose the winner.

Obviously this is not exactly the way they phrase it but essentially it is the process they have chosen. How is this a bridge competition, well they will pick from three designs….

My problem with this system is you only get the big players in the competition. I could probably meet the minimum qualifications for the first step but I doubt I could match portfolios for the second step. (How could I best all the work a company like Arup has constructed.)

So you will never see anything but three designs from the three finalists, who were picked based on previous projects and not on their concepts for this competition.

This does not seem like a way to pick a cool bridge. The system is obviously intended to produce a buildable bridge by a proven firm (or team).

What it is not, is a bridge competition.

(Process steps shown below the fold)

Continue reading Four Mile Run Bridge (Not) Competition

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Four Mile Run Bridge competition

I tried to send some questions to the Four mile Run Bridge competition but the question form would not allow enough text….so I figured no one has asked any questions yet. The competition seems a bit opaque to me.

To start with I would like to know:

  1. Potential budget?
  2. Do the power lines have to stay?
  3. Other height restrictions?
  4. Do you want a bridge concept with the submittal of qualifications?
  5. Do qualifications overrule the bridge concept?

Continue reading Four Mile Run Bridge competition