Review Category : Letters to the Editor

We thank the authors for compiling the pitfalls and drawbacks involved with sourcing foreign steel materials and fabrication. We especially note the inherent benefit gained by applying AISC technical documents and AISC Certification to domestically produced steel and domestic fabrication of structural steel. Application of AISC documents and Certification in this manner has a proven track record of safe, efficient and cost-effective project performance.

A case in point: much has been written comparing performance on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge project in California, which experienced both budget and schedule challenges, with performance on the Tappan Zee project in New York, which beat both the project budget and the project schedule. The Tappan Zee project was domestically sourced and the Bay Bridge was not.

We can add one more relevant consideration to the factors noted in your article: sustainability. The construction literature indicates that the carbon footprint of foreign fabricated steel material can be as much as three times the carbon footprint of domestic fabricated steel material.
So, choosing domestic steel materials and domestic fabrication, combined with application of the AISC technical documents and AISC Certification, not only addresses the challenges pointed out in your article, it also is more sustainable.

Charles J. Carter, S.E., P.E., Ph.D.
American Institute of Steel Construction


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Congratulations on the “harmony” of this edition and the “symphony” of the 4 articles beginning with your ‘Narrative and Engineering’, continuing with Ramon Gilsane’s ‘Understanding Seismic Design through a Musical Analogy’, then ‘Reflections on the 2014 South Napa Earthquake’ by Jon A. Dal Pino and finally by the thoughtful ‘Acceptable Collapse ‘ by Reid Zimmerman.

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The March 2014 Structural Forum column baffled me.  The author has not documented the basis of his assertion that “sustainable” buildings are only one percent better than “standard” buildings, nor did he explain why he “ignored the energy used to run buildings” even though, of the total energy used to construct and maintain a building over its lifetime, operation typically accounts for about half.

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San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

As a life-long San Francisco Bay Area resident, I was motivated to write this letter when I read the two articles published in the February 2014 issue regarding the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. I found the articles topical and provocative. However, if we are to improve rush hour traffic through the San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley corridor by considering the addition of a second identically configured parallel bridge adjacent to the existing one, I would have liked to have seen some of the more obvious questions/issues addressed:

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The article “Foundations for Metal Building Systems” in the July 2013 issue reminded me of a case from a couple of decades ago. A geotech friend called with a question about a steel gable-frame building that had suffered significant distress. The foundation had been designed (by someone else) as a a hairpin and slab tie system, and it probably would have worked. However, some salesman convinced the contractor that random fiber reinforcement was a good as welded wire reinforcement, and this substitution was made without input from the designers. The result was huge cracks at the ends of the hairpins, significant lateral spread of the column bases, and significant vertical deflection of the rood structure. I don’t know what the ultimate disposition of the case was.

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After reading Lara K. Schubert’s series of articles on the role of gender in structural engineering in
the February and April issues of STRUCTURE magazine, I find myself in complete disagreement
with the author. Neither earthquakes nor hurricanes nor gravity care about gender and, regardless
of the sex of the engineer, clocks stubbornly refuse to tick more slowly as deadlines approach.

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The InFocus article on “Knowledge, Rationality, and Judgment” (July 2012) explains the importance of practical judgment in the engineering profession based on virtue ethics cultivated and possessed by engineers. It reminded me of the following sentence that I read few weeks ago in a piece titled “One Virtue at a Time, Please” in The New York Review of Books (June 21, 2012) regarding Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed: Educating for the Virtues in the Twenty-First Century, by Howard Gardner:

“Nonetheless, Gardner is firmly on Keats’s side in wanting us, in our efforts to educate the young and ourselves, to take beauty seriously, to cultivate our aesthetic sensibilities, and to learn how to form intelligent judgments about works of art of all sorts.”

The engineering profession also needs to identify and cultivate our own virtues, and to learn how to form intelligent judgments about the role of technology in our civic life, so that we extend its benefits equitably to all of mankind, but do so sustainably, respecting the environmental constraints of our finite earth.

The bimonthly InFocus articles on virtue ethics concepts applied to reframing engineering ethics in the twenty-first century are timely and much needed. The technical rationality developed over two hundred years of technological revolution so distorts our notions of knowledge and judgement that we need to reframe both in the digital age, which otherwise promises an even greater stranglehold of technical rationality on the engineering profession.

Ashvin A. Shah, P.E., F.ASCE

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