Review Category : Letters to the Editor

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.

Read More →

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.

Read More →

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:

Read More →

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.

Read More →

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.

Read More →

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.

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

Read More →

The “Great Achievements” article by Frank Griggs on Alfred Pancoast Boller in the November issue of STRUCTURE magazine states, “In 1909, Bolller and Hodge were appointed engineers for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.” This does not appear to be correct. The Port Authority (originally: The Port of New York Authority) was created on April 30, 1921, nine years after Mr. Boller’s death. The Hudson River crossings studied during the period from about 1900 to 1927 were presumably conducted by the New Jersey Interstate Bridge and Tunnel Commission and the New York State Bridge and Tunnel Commission, which were not part of nor rolled over into the Port Authority. Boller, Hodge & Baird was a consultant to the New York State Bridge and Tunnel Commission in 1913 that recommended a bridge at 57th Street in Manhattan to New Jersey. This plan was rejected primarily because of its substantially higher cost as compared to a tunnel (see The New York Times, 04/22/13). The Holland Tunnel project was advanced instead; it opened in 1927, and the Port Authority took over its operation in 1930.

Joseph Kelly

Read More →