The Structural Engineer > Archive > Volume 4 (1926) > Issues > Issue 2 > The structural engineer as artist: chapterII: street facades
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The structural engineer as artist: chapterII: street facades

A LARGE proportion of the most important new buildings erected in our towns have a steel or ferro-concrete framework. Most architects have not a specialised training in the design of such framework, and it is generally left to the structural engineer to prepare the detailed drawings for this part of the building. As a rule, when it appears desirable that the building should have some architecural pretensions, its design is in charge of an architect who employs the structural engineer to calculate the stresses and strains of all parts of the framework and to specify the sections of the posts and transoms. In this case, however, it is assumed that the architect has determined the general character of the façade on social and aesthetic grounds and only requires from the engineer his technical advice as to the means of making the structure stable. A building may be said to comprise two elements, subject and form, the subject being the function or social purpose of the building, while the form consists in that organic relationship between its parts which results from their compliance with the principles of Number, Punctuation and Inflection, outlined in the last chapter. The extent to which these principles may mould the shape and proportions of a façade will be indicated later. It may be asked "Where does the engineer come in; does not the method of construction also have an important and even determining influence upon the design of the building?" The answer which I am venturing to give to this question may seem extremely paradoxical. It is to the effect that the cleverer and more competent the engineer, to the less extent can he determine architectural style. Where a building continually reminds us that it was constructed in such and such a manner, this is always because in some degree the method of its construction has resulted in some limitation in the shape or size of the members which compose it. In Gothic architecture, for instance, the only style which may justly be described as an engineer's style, the main features which enable us to differentiate this particular manner of building from all others, namely, the pointed arch and vault, grew out of an engineering disability to cover a span in any other way. But the Romans, who were better engineers than our medieval forefathers, not only could manipulate great blocks of stones, but also used concrete with freedom and skill. Some of the famous Roman buildings had the appearance of such self-confidence that they had, it were, a superfluous energy which enabled them to take account of many other architectural factors besides that of purely mechanical strength. And what the Romans did we of this age ought to be able to do, and, indeed, far better, for our resources as constructors are even greater than theirs. A. Trystan Edwards

Author(s): Edwards, A Trystan

Keywords: aesthetics;design;buildings