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Engineers – the party of No

Stop by the Happy Pontist website and read the great post by Simon Bourne. In essence Mr. Bourne is calling out a bridge concept that crosses the boundaries of good design and responsible value for the money. Tough thing to do in public.

This got me to thinking about how engineers are perceived as the party of No. No you can’t support your building on wood columns, no a glass highway bridge is not a good idea. You get my drift, we have to be the grownups in the room.


Being an engineer is very much like being a parent. We have to protect against those bad ideas, like going out with college boys when you are only in high school, and have a plan for the future.

It would be so much more fun being the party of Yes. Yes you can build a bridge out of shipping containers with minimal support, yes of course that unsupported cantilever will hold cars, yes I honestly believe you can build that one of a kind bridge for that budget.

When I worked on a corridor bridge project with an architect, the architect stood at the front of the room and said, “this is the best the engineers will let me do.”

On another project I worked with local city officials on an arch bridge concept. I had concepted out a bridge that would cost about $5 million to build. I was told that was too much money and they moved to another designer. Final cost of the new arch $12 million. The difference, the new designer said yes to everything. Wider bridge, sure, two bike paths sure and changed the discussion. To be honest, I think saying yes will get you more work than saying no.

Back to the River Wear bridge discussion on the Happy Pontist blog. Mr. Bourne is completely correct that the design is a bad value. Reading the post I understand what he is saying about the design but others will see it as engineers being negative about an “innovative” project.

Being an engineer is difficult, trying to stick to a budget is difficult, trying to stop your client from eating too much candy is difficult..maybe we have to wait until the children are grown and then we can say “see I told you so”……but sometimes it would be fun to be the parent who says ” yes you should take a year off school and travel around Europe with your boyfriend.”

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Connectivity / The fall of the engineer

This is old but worth repeating, link.

Hey how about supporting engineer blogs that promote engineers and engineering, hello we are here!

So what would it take for engineers today to be held in similarly high regard? How can we get people excited about engineering? To start with, I think engineers have to get better at expressing our ideas and opinions – because we’re living in an opinion age where thought leadership is a valuable currency. And the public want to be able to identify and empathise with individual engineers.

As we said in Canada, no sh*t Sherlock.

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Bridge Engineering for Kids – Quick Paper Bridge Competition

I made a quick reference pdf for making single sheet paper bridges. It is based on the US letter size and should print out to scale. IF you have different size paper (think metric) just make the length between abutments about 75% of the paper length. Rules are on the sheet.

Here is the pdf file.
paper bridge

And a quick video, with more fluff than actual information.

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Engineering Quote of the day

This is my next t-shirt.

Engineering is the art of modelling materials we do not wholly understand, into shapes we cannot precisely analyse so as to withstand forces we cannot properly assess, in such a way that the public has no reason to suspect the extent of our ignorance.
– Dr AR Dykes