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How to change the engineering culture?

I had some great comments on my last post and I liked having a conversation.

I wish I could sit with HP and David, have a beer and plot the overthrow of the current engineering culture. Now, about 93% of being an engineer is great, its that 7% (6.9% but I rounded up) that gets in the way. If we could just open up the culture of engineering I think we could really help the world. (Yes, I am wearing rose colored glasses, why?)

I read this article by Peter Bregman, on changing a corporate culture. His answer is one I think would work for engineers, change the stories.

To start a culture change all we need to do is two simple things:

  1. Do dramatic story-worthy things that represent the culture we want to create. Then let other people tell stories about it.
  2. Find other people who do story-worthy things that represent the culture we want to create. Then tell stories about them.

And if that doesn’t work…..

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The Pritzker Architecture Prize

Architects have the Pritzker prize, so naturally I was wondering what we have for engineers?

The international prize, which is awarded each year to a living architect for significant achievement, was established by the Pritzker family of Chicago through their Hyatt Foundation in 1979. Often referred to as “architecture’s Nobel” and “the profession’s highest honor,” it is granted annually.

The award consists of $100,000 (US) and a bronze medallion. The award is conferred on the laureate at a ceremony held at an architecturally significant site throughout the world.

The winner this year is Eduardo Souto de Moura, whose buildings and architecture look surprisingly engineerish in style. (Sorry if that is a slight to Mr. Souto de Moura.)

SO, what to do, what to do. Hey fellow engineering bloggers and readers!

Should we start the first annual bloggers choice Bridge Designer Award? It could be open to any bridge concept from 2010 and only engineers can win?

We could accept some nominees and then in a secret internet chat room pick the winner? A Monetary prize may be a problem but isn’t it all about the recognition of your peers? I will even design and donate a medallion for the winner… (maybe made out of concrete…)

What do you think? Lets do it!

Possible name.

Bridge Bloggers Designer of the Year

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Best Bridge Design Country – The United Kingdom

Sorry I don’t have a lot of new material today, I have been busy building a cabinet. (Lousy but usable)

But I got to thinking (I know it is hard to believe) after reading HP’s series of posts, that the best bridges seem to be in the UK. Here in America all our bridges lack imagination. Cheaper, squarer (is that a word?) and full of straight lines.

So I nominate the UK as the bridge mecca of the world. (IS it okay to call it the UK? Man I am showing my ignorance.) What do you think, am I wrong? What other country can boast the number and style of bridges found in the UK? And by bridges I mean aesthetic bridges.

On another note, why does it seem like the world is going crazy?

Quick render of a Google Warehouse Bridge

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Woman Bridge Engineers – Guest Comment David Brett

A reader, David Brett, does my work for me and in the process makes some great points. I know that the percentage of women in my concrete design class is very high and improving every year.

Thanks David!

Dear TBG,

Thanks again for your thought-provoking blog. Your recent post on “Women in Engineering – Ewa Bauer” with its rhetorical questions prompted me to investigate the present situation in some countries where I have worked. Blogging in between your other occupations must be time-consuming and difficult to fit into your weekly programme – so feel free to use any bits of the following sketchy information (or not) however you choose.

In civil engineering in particular the percentages of women are relatively small, while those women involved in construction activities and out-on-site are an even tinier percentage. Engineers, particularly the so-called civil variety to which we belong can be relatively Neanderthal in their behaviour and their acceptance of the fairer sex as equal colleagues, as compared to other professional groupings. So why would any woman in her right mind want to work with us? its a vicious circle and I’m not really surprised that this situation persists. In the USA you are probably more progressive and out towards the front of the curve in this matter?

Some links that I found:

France: (2010 – 4 pages) (2006 – 2 pages – more succinct graphical presentation on page one)

I worked in France for 22 years, and I can’t remember working with many women civil engineers during all that time although we had plenty of CAD drafts-women in our teams. According to these statistics the number of women in engineering has been steadily rising to reach 25% of all those engineers under 30 years old which is progress. However the proportion of women in Civil Engineering was still only 6% in 2010 (or 12% in 2006).

United Kingdom:

Only 9 percent of all British engineers in all categories are women, so the Brits must also rival the Frogs and Aussies (see below) as primitive cavemen at the bottom of the table. In the distant past when I worked there, Great Britain had the additional problem that “pure” Science was more highly regarded than Engineering, and Civil Engineering was at the very bottom of the Engineering heap – so the brightest students would try for research in pure science and the less able ones who couldn’t get into any other university faculty would have chosen Civil Engineering or Structures. Has this changed, I don’t know?

Europe in general:

(too much information in here and too concentrated on the pure research fields – see executive summary pages 9 to 12) However it appears that some countries are much better than others though such as Spain, with some Scandinavian and Eastern European countries also.


I’m an early baby-boomer, born in Australia – when I studied civil engineering in Australia last century we had 2 years of shared courses with other engineers before completely separating into the civil stream. In those first 2 years you could count the number of women in our classes on the fingers of less than one hand, while in our civil engineering final years we had not one female student amongst us. Women engineers according to the 2 web pages here are still a rare and endangered species, although people appear to be aware of the fact at least, which is good.


(Barbie as an engineer – this is a fun way of presenting the topic. Their Barbie doll looks more of a computer geek than an engineer though, and her accessories are still rather too pink to be working on site? They wouldn’t stay pink for long. When I see a site engineer Barbie doll looking more like Bob the Builder, wearing a safety helmet & big clodhopper boots then I will know that there has been progress. There is also an architect Barbie doll at the link below who doesn’t quite look the part to me either: )

Hong Kong:

I didn’t find any statistics, but having worked and lived here for 18 years my personal experience has been that there are very few active women civil or structural engineers. There are a few in subaltern positions in consultants’ design offices but virtually none in construction companies or on site. There is a summary of one person’s viewpoint in the abstract page of a survey thesis here:

various links in no particular order:


background.html (very scary engineers?!)


I hope that I have not “drowned” you with too much unwanted information, but maybe it can give you ideas for your blog. We could also have looked at mainland China, India and several other major countries.

I join your “Bravo” to women like Ewa Bauer who can succeed as engineers, without necessarily adopting all the same thought and behavioural patterns of their male counterparts. They are pathfinders – I welcome more such bright and capable women in our midst.

Best wishes for the blogging – keep it up,


company website:
LInkedIn page:

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Bridges with elevators?

With limited amount of space available in tight urban areas, I wonder if elevators would be a good solution. The downsides include continual maintenance and upfront cost. But the reduced sprawl of random walkways seem worth the extra effort.

The bridge below is a quick example, obviously quickly sketched with no thought to member sizes, of a simple bridge system. I was even thinking that the elevators could be powered by solar energy in less urban areas.

What do you think?

Continue reading Bridges with elevators?

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Bridge Design details – Fine edition – part 1

I was on a forum of sketchup users and they had a thread dedicated to fine design in all aspects of life. Like the tied arch couch below by Marta. So I thought I would start a running thread of images showing fine or innovative details on bridges. The typical ones that the users of a bridge would see, not just the long postcard view.

Let me know where I can find some cool images! (I just had this thought at 10 on a Sunday night.)

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Steampunk Bridge Concept

A very “clean” lunch project, a Steampunk bascule bridge. Of course its lousy….its lunchtime.

Update: I baked it a little longer in the computer oven and added a dapper engineer!

I keep adding images. This one only “baked” for 40 minutes, so it has some noise. The monocles melt the snow in winter…

Continue reading Steampunk Bridge Concept

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Women in Engineering – Golden Gate Bridge Engineer – Ewa Bauer

Look I hate to use the “Woman” engineer tag but it is rare to see and hear about women in bridge design. When I first started teaching concrete design, my class had very few women in the class. Maybe one or two out of twenty. Now I have probably ten to twenty out of ninety. (Who counts anymore?)

Still, women bridge engineers in high positions seem to be rare. (Is this also true in Europe?)

Ewa Bauer, is now the District Engineer for the Golden Gate Bridge. A cool position if there ever was one.

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Engineers as Leaders Part Deux

David wrote a great comment about my post on engineering leadership. I see engineering becoming as much a commodity as concrete, especially if engineers are not involved from day one.

Without being involved in the concepting of a project we are just another skill trade down the line. (nothing against skill trades.) Conceptual development is one of the keys in being part of a profession and not a trade. Engineers seem to abdicate their professionalism by not getting involved.

David wrote,

Dear TBG,
For me your topics of change and leadership are closely related. In English-speaking countries generally engineers do not have much of a visible leadership role, nor high social status, despite the effect of their work on our built environment.

But in some countries engineers do have very influential roles. Why is this? Its related to their particular histories and cultures. Two examples immediately spring to mind, France and mainland China, but there may be others.

How to get budding engineers more involved in society, can we teach them leadership skills, and how to institute change are all intriguing topics. Maybe this could be made part of a formal course on “the role of the engineer in society” in the area of their general studies, or maybe just subversive discussions during the coffee break or the evening beer-and-lemonade session or whatever customary informal gatherings you have in your neck-of-the-woods will also work.

Gradual change can be effective in the longer term by “planting a seed” in the minds of the odd “thinkers” who may be present in the group. Of course a good hard wallop caused by a natural catastrophe or social upheaval can make the greater public rethink important matters very quickly.

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Friday Bridge Concept and earthquake

I gave my second concrete design exam last night and I am a little tired. The exam was scheduled for two hours and most students took about 2:30+ hours to finish..

So, for fun I developed a little bridge, using a cattle car from Google Warehouse. Next week is spring break, so between grading exams, I will try to post some “good” material..

One more. I tried using the photomatch in sketchup. So far it works but it looks like %$#. Remember its just a cattle train car concept!

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Engineers as Leaders, ahhh not so much.

I love engineering. Finding answers to problems is what we do, and we are pretty good at it.

But I think we are terrible at defining the problems. I have been on projects where meetings and arguments would rage for days about some minor technical aspect of a design when the solution is really a change in thinking. Maybe the problems would go away if you made the bridge a two span structure instead of three. Maybe concrete is not the solution to every problem. I’m just saying…

Leadership has been described as the “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task. Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen.

I would also argue that engineers are micro thinkers and often miss the larger picture. Maybe because it is difficult to quantify a large view, maybe because of the fear of the unknown. Maybe because we are used to working on the smallest details, once the big picture has been passed on to us. (I have had managers who argued for perfect plans with perfect details, but missed the obvious that the overall design was flawed from the start.)

Ahhh where was I, oh yeah, engineers as leaders. It seems obvious that engineers should rule the world. We have big brains, impeccable social skills and problem solving credentials out the wazoo but for some reason we are not leading the charge.

So what do you think, are engineers leaders or do we just work on other people’s  ideas?