Today I gave a talk called a ‘World Tour of Structural Form’ at the sculpture department at the University of Brighton. I was invited by Tom Grimsey who had seen me give a similar talk in Brighton at Cafe Scientifique. The key point I make in the talk is that being an engineer is a way of seeing the world: how it is built up; the flux of forces through our built environment; and the world of possibilities. In my teaching role at the University of Edinburgh, I have been emphasising the importance of observation in developing the basic knowledge that allows us to become designers. This is thinking on which I the idea of an imaginary world tour in which we could observe the structures that demonstrate important behaviour.
The talk is based upon the World Tour of Structural Form university workshop that we developed at Think Up for the Workshed site. The workshop is structured around a slide show of famous structures from around the world. For each structure, students are asked to work out how the vertical loads (arising from the force of gravity) and lateral loads (sideways loads such as the wind) are transferred to the ground. Students are encouraged to use the interactive structural tools on the Workshed site to work out how these structures behave. At the end of the workshop, students carry out a short design exercise in which they must propose several designed for a bridge based on the structural principles they have observed during their world tour.