Breathtaking Designs Depend On Them
It’s thanks to structural engineers that our skyscrapers, tunnels, bridges, dams—really anything that’s built—all stand up tall and strong and safe, and last a good long time. Structural engineers look at the smallest building elements—arches, beam, columns, trusses, shells, and the like—and make sure they’re put together correctly to satisfy the needs of whatever they’re designing.
If it’s breathtaking, hair-raising, or cliff-hanging, a structural engineer has no doubt been involved. Think cool. Very cool. The Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, London’s Millennium Dome, the St. Louis Arch are all triumphs of structural engineering.
Yes, they’re artists with a capital A, but structural engineers are also problem solvers and they’re always pushing the boundaries to bring us the new and super-helpful: the tallest, most intricate skyscrapers… a pedestrian bridge that rises like a wave to let people continue their walk across the river as a ship passes underneath… a historic building renovated with new materials…emergency housing quickly built after a flood or other natural disaster.
Also think extreme engineering. Structural engineers can design the near impossible: tall towers that will be just fine if an earthquake hits…energy turbines that function in rough waters…cliff-hanging houses that are stable and safe…elaborate stages for rock stars that can be struck and reset in a flash at the next venue…viaduct bridges that span deep canyons to get us where we’re going faster and more securely.
Interested in structural engineering?
Check out this video:
Courtesy of The Institution of Structural Engineers
Courtesy of National Academy of Engineering
Structural engineers have designed Shanghai Tower, the tallest building in China, at 2,073 feet high. Check out the video to learn more about the amazing skyscraper’s nine vertical zones and double-decker elevators that can take passengers 1,900 feet in less than a minute.
Building as Flower
Santiago, Chile’s Baha'i Temple was engineered to look like a flower with nine petals. They’re connected via 1,120 glass panes.
Straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Remember that beautiful leaning tower in Italy? For 800 years it had been tilting to the south. In the 1990s, it was tilting so much, it was in danger of collapse. Engineers came to the rescue! By hanging lead weights on the north side of the tower and removing a lot of soil from underneath it, engineers got the tower to stand up more than a foot straighter. It should stay that way for the next couple of hundred years.
Higher and Higher Go the Skyscrapers
A new round of supertalls is slated for cities around the world. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai and China’s Shanghai Tower are the current record holders. Shanghai Tower was engineered as a twisting, spiral shape to reduce the impacts of wind—totally necessary in supertall buildings especially those in locations where typhoons are possible. Plus, this unusual shape just happens to be significantly cheaper to build than the old rectangular structures.
Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn, NY is a jewel-box enclosure to protect a newly restored historic carousel, adjacent to the Brooklyn Bridge. The pavilion is square, 72 feet per side and 26 feet tall. Two walls have operable acrylic doors and the other two are fixed mullion-less acrylic panels.
One Jackson Square in New York City is a luxury residential building with retail space constructed atop the subway tunnels. It features a unique façade of undulating curtain wall surfaces, containing in-fills of glass and metal panels. The weight of the building sits on base isolation springs and the Eighth Avenue subway tunnel. The springs isolate the noise and vibration of the trains from the apartment occupants above.
Hunters Point Community Library will be a 6-story, 80-foot-tall rectangular concrete building that features large, irregular cut-outs in the concrete walls which are reinforced inside with steel bars to give the walls strength and prevent the concrete from forming unsightly cracks. The number and location of the steel bars help transfer the loads in the building’s walls – due to gravity, wind, and earthquakes – from the roof to the ground. Building modeling computer programs created a stress diagram that indicates areas in the wall where there is higher stress and lower stress, and the bars are placed accordingly.
Structural and civil engineers work together to create spans over water and over land, going for the most elegant and safest possible structure. Strong supports, strong spans, and a strong visual are the basics—and it’s amazing how many different varieties engineers come up with.
Walk Over the Grand Canyon
It’s horseshoe-shaped and glass-bottomed and lets you walk out over the Grand Canyon—almost a mile above the base of the canyon. If your first response is eeek, don’t worry: structural engineers have been there to assure your walk in the sky is ultra safe.
Traditional Sports, Extreme Engineering
Sports arenas have come a long way from just bleachers around a dusty field. Just look at the Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta, home of the Falcons. The roof is totally dramatic, inspired by Greek architecture, and will open in close in about 10 minutes. There’s a 16-story-high floor-to-ceiling glass wall that gives you a great view of the city, thousands of solar panels, and the world’s largest video screen that wraps around the field. A winner for fans of sports and engineering!
The new Yankee Stadium, located in the Bronx in New York City, opened in 2009 and is the home ballpark for the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball.
BIM Makes it Better
Building Information Modeling, or BIM—three little letters that are revolutionizing the building process. Design a structure, draw it, put it in the computer and everyone can see what the building will look like even before ground is broken. Architects and engineers can all work on it together, change the design, update it, refine it so everyone knows what’s going on—and without a single old fashioned blueprint or paper drawing have to be sent around to the entire team. Structural engineers are using the BIM software created by software engineers to analyze and improve today’s complex buildings.
To see BIM in action, check out this video.
What’s 150 feet tall, got more than 2,400 steps, 80 landings, and 154 flights of stairs—and lets you get a ton of spectacular views of New York City? The Vessel at Hudson Yards, a gigantic steel structure you can climb all over to see the Big Apple from different angles. Structural engineers know how to make a go of so many things!