Tuesday 24 December 2013

An Engineer Imagines: Why I Studied Mechanical Engineering

 This Christmas, instead publish an article about a technical topic, I go to comment on a book that does me remember the excitement with which I studied mechanical engineering.

Peter Rice, An Engineer Imagines

  The book is An Engineer Imagines, the autobiography of Peter Rice, one of the most imaginative and gifted structural engineers of the 20th Century, published after he died due to a brain tumor.

 With his imagination and his deep knowledge of structures and materials, not only steel or concrete but also glass, polycarbonate, stone or fabric; Rice got the recognition and admiration of all the engineers and architects with whom he collaborated, especially of Ove Arup with he worked in the Structures 3 design department (great name for an engineering department).

  In his book, Rice alternates his memories of youth in Dundalk, Newbridge and Belfast with his great projects; his ideas about engineering and the research of new shapes and materials, with his relationship with Arup and with Jean Prouvé.

La Maison Tropicale, by Jean Prouvé
 Prouvé is another great engineer, his projects of La Maison Tropicale and La Maison du Sahara that provide smart solutions for houses in extreme climate conditions, while provides solutions to prefabricated homes, one of my research interests; or his experimentation with new shapes and new materials, as the cylindrical service stations for Total.

Pabellón del Futuro Expo'92 Seville
 Returning to Rice, we can not forget his works in the Sydney Opera House, the Centre Pompidou, the Lloyd's of London building or the Menil Collection Museum, all with impossible structures, some of the results of the Lightweight Structures Laboratory in Ove Arup & Partners. A highlight is his collaboration in the Pabellón del Futuro of the Expo'92 in Seville, it combines a single row of huge stones arches, of an extreme lightness, with a waveform roof suspended over four display halls and a canopy, also suspended, over the central plaza... Or the engineering solutions of the Full Moon Theatre to light up the nighttime stage only by reflectors.
Fiat VSS, 1981
  But the engineers specialized in machines shouldn't forget his projects, joined Renzo Piano and the I.DE.A Institute, for Fiat that produced the Subsystems Experimental Vehicle (VSS). Its structure was a steel spaceframe and the body (with plastic panels) had no load-bearing capacity, but for the first time, this choice was made in order to reduce the vehicle weight and to obtain high flexibility in terms of external shape, production, and assembly. The vehicle was made by nine external panels that had to be produced separately (as complete "subsystems") and then assembled in a final production line.

 I strongly recommend you to read this book, An Engineer Imagines by Peter Rice, or as I name it Why I Studied Engineering.


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