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Re: Structural Engineering as Art and the pitfalls of computers

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Apologies for not having read prior parts of this thread but.........

"Dennis S. Wish PE" wrote:

> In the last post, Milo Ketchum stated:
> "Training of structural engineers should include courses in art and free
> hand drawing. when I taught structural engineering courses I often said:
> "Think with your fingers""

Mr. Ketchum, perhaps I was one of those students at the University of
Connecticut (69-73). While I don't specifically recall that comment, I do
remember your broad vision. I was particularly impressed that a former
practitioner could enter the academic climate with such clear and thoughtful
presentations. I did pursue art history, appreciation, and all the 101 courses
in "non technical" areas a BSCE major could fit into elective credits.

> I believe that this concept is rapidly becoming archaic and properly so. As
> we strive to achieve the most economical design AND accept work that
> presents far more complex architectural problems we need to use our minds to
> derive more creative structural solutions and spend less time representing
> those solutions on paper.

Oops!! Not so say I!!
Of course our new tools allow faster solutions, more thorough examinations and,
and, there must be a third benefit in there somewhere. Back to my Ketchum days,
a most important lesson I learned was structural "feel" for a solution. There
may be too much emphasis on exactitude in our work. This is not to belittle the
tools at our disposal, but to raise the concern of the loss of idle, daydreaming
time. I doodle better on paper than on computer.

> This means that we need to spend more time learning to use the new tools we
> have to our advantage. This is the true creativity of drafting.
> Cad provides a means for us to create equivalent representation to manual
> drafting in a shorter period of time. However, we tend to neglect to delve
> past the very basics and blame the technology for providing inferior results
> to those of classic delineation.

Perhaps this is where I may miss the boat by not having read the prior posts
As I see it, the computer aided tools have put engineers closer to architects in
presentation of work than ever before. We probably all recognize that
engineering manual drafting skills are usually significantly inferior to that of
the architect. No apologies needed since we obviously have spent a lot less time
developing this part of our brains. But the product (drawings) we might argue,
is only a portion of the "creativity" (albeit the one upon which judgment is
often passed).

> I have been using Cad software since 1984. With each new advancement, I
> strive to learn the new features and how I might apply them to improve my
> presentation. Layers, color (as equated to lineweights), and sheet placement
> are just  a few of the important skills. I recently learned to create a line
> that could be drawn in degrees of shading so that it appeared as a very
> faint, but thick line which was interpreted as a background when plotted.
> Rather than learning to letter in classic style, we need only find a font
> that achieves this - or create one if so inclined.

It is important to remember that these "tools" satisfy our appreciation of an
end product. In the production environment, all you are saying is very
supportive and in fact down right convincing. There will always be a reason to
do things better, faster, less expensively, yet the thread contains the word
"art". In my mind, those arguments disappear when put in that context. I like to
tell myself that I am building a bamboo fly rod. I fly fish and have several
graphite rods which I dearly love. Yet, my passion is to produce a six strip,
two tipped bamboo rod one day. Not because I think it is necessarily better than
my other rods, but because of the beauty of the labor of the construction and
the time I might spend at a workbench listening to music and looking out the
windows, dreaming.

> The argument that most firms can not afford the down time for learning is no
> longer valid. More draftsman with structural experience are available today
> than ever before and this is growing at a steady pace. Still, we all have
> our unique specialties which require special training. Unless your secure
> that you will never lose your valued draftsperson, you may be faced with the
> need to train an apprentice. There should be no more "downtime" than that of
> taking on a new employee. Better still, offices might consider hiring a
> draftsperson with greater skills (and pay accordingly) who can establish an
> office standard at an accelerated rate - thus reducing the cost of
> conversion.

I've done this (hired experienced CAD drafters) in the past, and it did infect
me with the momentum to get over the wall of resistance. It's feeble to resist,
and the natural evolution of firm ownership will convert every office sooner or
later. We've all seen it happen, and the questions remain the same. Some people
succeed in business because they can sense timing. When to venture into new
areas, how much to spend, how to make the personal transitions. The ability to
develop as a professional involves the maturation of more than a single
dimension of life. Knowing how to filter through the many tugs for your
attentions is a key to being satisfied with with your growth.

> I believe that the resistance to Cad is one of fear of technology rather
> than rational consideration of efficiency or lost productivity. This
> resistance is true of most changes in technology - one that requires time to
> cure.
> I think the time has come that we understand the business side of our
> profession and choose those tools that can protect our creative
> representation and increase our efficiency and productivity. The advantage
> is that we can provide greater efficiency and creative choices as solutions
> to complex problems.
> Dennis S.Wish PE

Confucius must have a saying about the wise man being able to balance the art,
science, and business side of life. I'll look it up somewhere..

Some of us are on the bandwagon of technology (or partially being dragged
along). I venture to restate that listserv subscribers are probably more on than
off. These are wonderful times (the best of and the worst of??) what with the
ability to reap the benefits of advancing sciences and all. No doubt, things can
get better. But better for me and better for you (this is a rhetorical "you"
Dennis :) can be different. There is a need to project a vision of the future of
structural engineering. I hope that vision will include the things we cannot
see, measure, or touch.

Barry H. Welliver
Draper, Utah