Author: S. Pole
1 October 2018
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Sarah Williamson came to structural engineering a few years later than most, but since starting her career she has forged her way to being one of the key minds responsible for delivery of the multibillion-pound main civils work contract at Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant. Jackie Whitelaw went to meet her.
This month's letters reflect on the Genoa bridge collapse and ask how many other pieces of infrastructure may be unsafe; consider the subsidence problems that may arise from a hot summer; discuss the importance of retaining old building records; and call for better promotion of the industry and careers in engineering through the media.
The early development of design skills is important for undergraduate students in structural engineering, as it provides an integrated context for their other studies and generates interest and excitement in the subject. It is equally important that students are given the freedom to experiment and generate unique design outputs so that they can start to understand their own design identity and develop good engineering judgement. This has been the focus of publications such as that by Stratford. This paper describes an innovative and integrated approach to the teaching of structural design to first-year Civil Engineering students at the University of Southampton, which has received The Institution of Structural Engineers Excellence in Structural Engineering Education Award 2018. The majority of the first-year Civil Engineering design curriculum is taught via a project called Prototype. Prototype encourages the development of design skills, processes and responsibilities, and challenges the students to develop and prototype structures in response to specific briefs. Focus is placed upon design being an iterative process, the application of fundamental structural understandings, the value of integrating prototyping, and the need for structural engineering to be appreciated as a craft that can balance and homogenise wide-ranging design factors and that can be delivered with ambition, technical skill, subtlety and joy. This paper describes the design rationale and linkages to mechanics, structures and materials. Wider design activities within the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment, including recent strategic investments, are also discussed. Emphasis is placed on project outcomes.