What the ‘art of engineering’ means to me? By Iain McIntyre
My journey as an engineer in the built environment started before computer tools were used in design. When I was a graduate everything was designed by hand, and every design started with concept design sketches. Whether you were involved in structural analysis or soil mechanics, hand design was often a long and painstaking process. It was therefore important to have an instinctive feel for the solution right at the outset, because if you got it wrong you could be faced with days or even weeks of laborious re-design!
So, to me the art of engineering is the ability to look at a problem or challenge and, using a combination of engineering principles and experience, develop an optimum solution in advance of any detailed design being undertaken. All engineers of this era quickly developed a “feel” for the optimum solutions, whether it be drainage pipe sizes, portal frame stanchion and rafter section sizes, or foundation options. This manual design process required the engineer to develop a real sense of scale and magnitude, and use various rules of thumb to develop solutions in advance of design justification calculations.
In some ways the advance of design software in the last 20-30 years has diminished the engineer’s instinctive connection between the problem and the solution. This is because the software spits out the answers and allows multiple options quickly to be considered, which could have taken months in the era of hand design. In other ways, however, contemporary design software allows the art of engineering to come to the fore, and by removing the tedious elements from the design process, it enables more creativity to be embedded into our projects.
p.s don’t try and steal his scale rule