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RE: Structural Engineering as Art

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By saying "I have never been blessed with the ability to free-hand 
my thoughts very well" you strengthen Milo's argument.  If some 
aspect of your education had emphasized the importance of 'thinking 
with your fingers' you would not have that limitation.  Most people 
are not naturally great artists; it takes sincere (and sustained) 
effort to develop and expand conceptualization skills.  Even the 
great artists of the past (like Leonardo da Vinci) had to consider 
dozens of options and "sketch" these ideas before they could even 
begin to consider the details.  We are no different today.  While 
developing concepts and when explaining the structure to owners, 
architects, and others, we must be able to visualize and convey the 
main ideas with pencil on paper.  If all our thoughts require 
"electronic accuracy" we lose the immediacy in such situations and it 
becomes clear that we lack the vision that characterizes a great 

Of course we should not "work out a solution that is 1/2 inch too 
large for the space."  When conceptualizing structures we can 
probably work to the nearest meter or without dimensions at all
because it is the overall behavior and appearance that matter.

Keeping in mind that the final product is not a drawing (electronic 
or paper) but is a structure that is shaped by the hands 
(of construction workers, for instance), "the tool that can best 
convey your abstract thought into concrete reality" is a rough 
sketch.  The drawings and specifications provide the details, but the 
"art" is in the concept.

Like most structural engineers, I spend most of my time 
considering details (of analysis, design, and contract documents) and 
I find computer-based tools (and their creative use) efficient and 
personally rewarding.  However, when I'm explaining to a 
seven-year-old (or an architect) how the Golden Gate Bridge works,
"electronic accuracy" is meaningless; artist expression and 
structural innovation spring from the human--the mind and the hand.


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Michael Valley                                   E-mail: mtv(--nospam--at)
Skilling Ward Magnusson Barkshire Inc.                  Tel:(206)292-1200
1301 Fifth Ave, #3200,  Seattle  WA 98101-2699          Fax:        -1201