Monthly Archives: June 2011

Designbymany = frustration

Okay I took my ball and went home. Yup, I’m a bad sport, a purveyor of sour grapes, and a sore loser. Why, well I dropped out of the designbymany building to building competition. Why, well I was deeply frustrated with the way the competition was handled. (and yes I would have lost, see sore loser above.)

First off, I think designbymany will be hugely popular with architectural students. It is the perfect place to compete and share ideas. Having HP as a sponsor /co-owner doesn’t hurt either. A $10,000 plotter plus the fame of being recognized on archdaily could jump start a budding career. (Hey HP how about sponsoring an engineering website! Hell I will sell it to you.)

Why the frustration then? The first part is the jumbled nature of the website. It is frustrating not to know what is going on or who actually owns the site. (No contact information on the site but you can find the owner by looking up the domain registration. Update: Reading the about page this site is run by design reform and Case.) The style of communication on the site was difficult because it all ran together in one lump of comments and responses. In addition, it is not clearly stated what rights the competitor has in regards to their submitted material.

Now that in itself is not a reason to quit. What frustrated me the most was allowing competitors to join the competition after the closing time period. This is not done in a competition. I fired off an angry email to the owner and he was very polite in his response. Seems like a nice guy. (yes I am a jerk, yes I should be nicer.)

I know the pain of being disqualified from a competition for not adhering to the rules. (See Calgary Bridge Competition.) It sucks after all the hard work, but strict rules are needed for a fair competition.

So, summing up, me = jerk.

I like the idea behind designbymany very much. I enjoyed competing even though I was a lot older than most of the competitors. I love the idea of online competition with a great worthwhile prize. I liked the owner. I did not like the uncertainty in the rules.

Me = cry baby.

Judging a bridge concept

If you have read the last few posts you will know that I entered an online bridge competition. I believe I was competing, mostly, against architectural students.

Nothing wrong with that, except for the nagging feeling that as a professional bridge designer, I should have had the winning entry…I am supposed to know what a good bridge concept is and design accordingly.

But competitions are a special arena. Designers have to entertain, appeal to and wow their audience with concepts that may or may not be buildable. After you win the competition then you modify your design into something structurally feasible.

What is the most realistic bridge type for a building to building span? Probably, a steel girder or a steel tube bridge, because of the strength to weight ratio of steel. (A glass bridge, aah, not so much.) If you look at the concepts in the competition, I would venture that at least half are not structurally sound. (But hey, the bridge engineer will fix it later.)

I have had this discussion with HP before, how do you win a bridge competition? I think it depends on who is judging it. It also depends on the type of competition. The designbymany competition was for a theoretical concept, something that will never be built, so the more outrageous the better seems the way to go. Of course you need to include a touch of the possible so that it feels like a bridge.

When the public judges a bridge I think you go for a green, open, curvy structure with good lighting. (LED lighting is the current favorite.) If the people judging the bridge are the ones paying for it (or politically responsible for it), then you want a more practical design.

Obviously this is a bit simplistic but you do have to design for your audience. Which also brings me to the question of what viewpoint are you designing for? (good English that sentence, duh.) By this I mean, are you designing for the outside, people on the street viewers or for the people actually using the structure? Good design does both but I would postulate (HA!) that most designers go for the external, long distance audience.

Think about all the great bridge images showing the whole bridge. How realistic is this viewpoint? For the Golden Gate Bridge, it is perfect, but for something like a building to building bridge, maybe the user viewpoint is the most important. How do you judge intimate details like railings, materials and how traffic uses the bridge?

So when you evaluate a bridge, what is your judging criteria?

What pointers would you give designers?

Here is post where the Happy Pontist gives some good design advice.

Kickstarter is an interesting website geared toward funding creative projects. I am not sure how kickstarter makes money but I assume they take a percentage of the pledges.

Here is one cool project. Floating swimming pool.

Kickstarter is the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world. Every month, tens of thousands of amazing people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields.

I also like this small greenhouse, that achieved funding.

Design Competitions for Engineers

My last post got some negative reaction because of my shameless pandering for “likes”. Hey I wanted to win! (Actually I just wanted to be accepted as a legitimate competitor.)

But I think the larger issue is the lack of engineers entering design competitions. Competitions are part of the job for architects, especially young architects. Entering competitions allows your creative mojo to flow and raise your profile in the community. Engineers are taught not to compete in any way. (I believe it is actually part of our professional code not to compete with other engineers, at least in terms of money.)

I enjoy the wide open kind of competition where anyone can throw an idea into the mix. (I am not a big fan of the huge team competitions because it limits participation to the big boys.) In fact I enjoy competing with architects, on bridge design, even though my ideas are probably more conservative (and lousy).

Dreaming up a new concept is hard. Putting your entry together and promoting it is hard. Losing all the time is hard. But I think the alternative of not entering is harder yet. If you don’t put yourself out there, you will never grow as a designer.

What do you think about engineers entering design competitions?

I’m losing! – bridge concept update

See post below about being stuck on a concept. I didn’t get one “like” on my bridge submission to!

I know my idea is boring but really……none of my loyal fans have bothered to “like” my concept so that an engineer can win. Yes, thats it, do it for engineers! Engineers forever! Did I mention architects hate engineers and they often go out of their way to disparage our profession. (or so I have heard.)

So to recap, if you vote for me, I’m not winning, engineers are winning!

Don’t you want engineers to win?

Stuck on a concept / 2D world – random blather

I have been discussing concepts with an engineering friend and one of the things I have learned is how much I get stuck on an idea. Engineers have to devise concepts all the time for projects but my problem is accepting a solution from someone else or even redefining my idea.

For example, I came up with a building to building bridge concept in my last post. Okay, it is not the most original idea, but can’t people see it is the only submitted idea that actually works. (a bit of sarcasm there.)

My first thought is typically, “can’t you see my idea is the best!” Am I the only engineer that thinks that way?

On another subject, I tried to get our local university to sponsor some classes in Sketchup / 3D visualizations for engineers. The comment I received was something like “I have not heard of any firm requiring an engineer to draw in 3D.”

That is completely true, engineers live in a 2D, line diagram world. But why do we accept that? In our office engineers barely draw in cadd, preferring to leave that to technicians. I know I am a broken record on digital drawing but I have to believe at some point engineers will be forced into the BIM world.

Finally, I am suffering from Calatrava withdrawal. Why hasn’t he put out a new idea lately?

A short video on our aging nuclear reactors…and rule changes. (hat tip David)

Glass Bridge Concept –

Update: I seem to be losing….I wanted to use my rotating bridge between buildings but I was not sure how that could be prefabbed and installed.

The Happy Pontist found this site,, that holds competition for various challenges. I started on a concept last night and just submitted it. Don’t laugh too much but you can check it out here.

The competition is for a bridge that spans between building. I submitted a concept for an glass arch bridge. Glass bridges are not entirely new but they are best suited for locations that can keep a bridge completely in compression, which is what the buildings are doing. Here is my overview.

Glass Bridge Concept – Building to Building Challenge – DesignbyMany
(I literally found out about this competition, yesterday, so my concept is a little rough at this stage.)

Glass is one of the oldest manmade materials on Earth and is surprisingly strong in compression. Based on early concepts from previous designers, such as Thomas Heatherwick, a prefabricated Glass Bridge, completely in compression, is feasible for bridge designers.

The Building to Building challenge is ideally suited for arch bridges, because the two building act as solid abutments, keeping the arch in compression.

My thin shelled Glass Bridge concept uses a natural sustainable material, glass, and transforms it into a structural form. The bridge could be prefabricated and lifted into place between the buildings, in less than a day.

The outer shell of the bridge is an arched tubular rotated helix. The tubing would be used to regulate the temperature of the bridge by acting as a radiator in the winter and as a cooling structure in the summer. The complete structure could be prefabricated and lifted into place. The Helix could be clad with glass for cold weather climates or left open for warmer weather climates. (The rotated helix could also be prefabricated in two pieces and lifted into place around the Glass Bridge.)

A Glass Bridge shows how natural but innovative materials can be used in the bridge industry.

And images:

Automatic Sketchup – 3D Models in Ruby

You can download a free pdf of the book, “Automatic Sketchup: Creating 3-D Models in Ruby,” here. The author of the book is Matthew Scarpino, a software consultant in the San Francisco Bay area.

Plugins use the Ruby language to turbo charge Sketchup and makes good software into great software.

Think Big

I like this post on a very liberal blog. Try to ignore the politics of the blog and look at the idea. How would you fix our infrastructure? Me, I would force innovation. We need to stop thinking in old ways.

But our transportation infrastructure is not merely plagued with antique equipment and battered pavement. Shaky old ideas predominate as well. In spite of the obvious purpose of transportation—connecting human beings, goods and services—we have allowed inefficiency, gridlock, lethal pollution and fiscal insustainability to rule the day.


I found this blog, Engineering-Chic, which is based in South Africa. Looks interesting!

I’m a young woman who’s just got a degree in Mechanical Engineering… You may say I’m crazy for wanting to work in this field, but I’m having an awesome time! I see mountains of opportunity all around me- despite the very real problems faced in my country, South Africa. Join me on my sometimes crazy, often clumsy but always fabulous journey as I travel the world for my profession, work in shantytowns with Engineers Without Borders, fall to pieces and have loads of fun along the way!

Innovation for Engineers

I am sitting in a two day seminar on railroad design. Right now I am looking at a handwritten PowerPoint slide. Sigh, it is going to be a long day.

So I thought I would try and post from my iPhone.

I was in a meeting where I advocated for the adoption of the FHWA sustainability guidelines. These guidelines are in the form of a project rating system. The system is purely voluntary.

So your asking why would you want to adopt a voluntary system that may tie your hands or increase costs on a project.

My hope was the rating system would spur some competition amongst designers in pursuit of a high rating number.

Then competition would lead to the pursuit of innovation.
I look at the Leeds system. I have to give it credit for the way it has accelerated competition for new materials and techniques across the whole building industry.

I look to the rating system to help competition because now we are keeping score and rating the best design by a designer!

I know we hate grades but without some kind of assessment how do we know we are doing a good job?
What do you think?

And a bonus doodle!