Papers - too ‘academic’?
Mr W. E. A. Skinner’s letter (21 April), which initiated this topic, was in reaction to a paper (‘Structural optimisation with the genetic algorithm 7 by Professor Jenkins, who himself responded on 16 June. In a further letter Mr Skinner, after remarking that the response he had had in mind has been covered pretty well by Stefan Tietz (21 July), continues as follows:
As Verulam rightly points out, Stefan Tietz has made some interesting points which will no doubt provoke further discussion. It seems to me that, underlying this whole question, is the matter of the distinction between the arts and the sciences as applied to the practice of engineering. I have always felt that structural engineering was much more of an art than a science and that, in the creation of any structure, the correct concept was a much more important factor than the detailed design of the various elements that comprise the whole. In recent years, we have distinguished between ‘technicians’ and ‘engineers’ - presumably, the latter are those who can do the creative bit and the former the ones who do the sums. The advent of computer aided design has probably done much to emphasise this differentiation, and a great deal of space in the Journal is taken up with papers dealing with detail design and - probably for the reasons given by Stefan Tietz - not enough to the discussion of conceptual thought. I can remember the time when consulting engineers concerned themselves only with advice on concept and consideration of particular problems in design of foundations and other tricky items - detail design was done by the contractors. Perhaps, with the advent of the ‘design and build’ concept, we are returning to that system and maybe the consulting engineering profession will stop employing large numbers of staff preparing details and schedules!