pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Tue Apr 17 03:35:08 EDT 2001
Subject: Structural Engineering
An interesting article about Cecil Balmond, the top structural
engineer at the most prestigious structural engineering firm in the
world, Ove Arup, that "built the iconic Sydney Opera House, the
vast Tate Modern museum in London, and the just-completed longest
bridge in the world, øresund Fixed Link - a 10-mile-long
double-decker that stretches between Sweden and Denmark."
Such prominence of engineering ideas, with permanence of
results, makes me, as an electrical engineer, quite wistful.
Dot.com era fever, electro-technology's "15 minutes of fame," never
promised permanence, and produced few lasting ideas.
The central questions of this century are going to be about
social circumstances, issues of collective action, the development
of rules of governance and flexibility of institutions. Will we be
ingenious enough to create and promote the flexible policies and
institutions within which technological and scientific potential
can be realized?
Engineers and social scientists should seek to reinforce each
other's ingenuity to address 21st-century questions. Right now, it
seems to me, engineers study systems of great complexity that are
frequently irrelevant, while social scientists frequently
underestimate the complexity of the phenomena they study, and get
overconfident about causality and solutions. Engineers have learned
to bridge technology gaps so successfully that they have to invent
new ones. At the same time, our social dilemmas raise ingenuity
gaps badly in need of solutions. Of course I hope that the answers
will not be sought in genetically re-engineered people for an
unimproved social fabric. --PJK
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